A few (okay, many) years later, my first attempt at Secret of the Songshell (when it was called "Minstrel") resulted in forty pages that, frankly, were not very good. In fact, they were pretty terrible. I decided that I needed to brush up on my skills (i.e., figure out what the heck I was doing), so I did what I always do when I want to learn something: I read books. In this case, books about how to write books. There was one in particular that I really liked and referred to a lot, and I'd like to recommend it to you now: Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell.
Armed with this tome, I trashed the original forty pages and started fresh, eventually arriving at the, ahem, award-winning result you have on your bookshelf today (For those of you who - gasp - don't own Secret of the Songshell, I suggest you buy it now...the cover will be changing soon, and then you'll have a collector's item on your hands).
Since I believe that one should never stop trying to learn and improve, another book-about-writing-books that I added to my toolkit recently was Second Sight by Cheryl Klein (mahalo to my fellow SCBWI member Deb Cushman for the tip).
What I especially love about this one is that there is an entire chapter called "A Few Things Writers Can Learn From Harry Potter." You may know by now that I'm a huge HP fan and that J.K. Rowling's boy wizard series was a big influence on me when I was writing SotS. So even though the book as a whole is terrific and packed with great info, to me, that chapter alone is worth the purchase price.
Bottom line: if you're an aspiring writer wandering through the dark and murky forest of plots and characters and other scary things, you may want to consider taking these two little guys along as your lantern-wielding guides.