Buffy dies. Giles dies.
is a story.
Buffy dies. Giles dies of grief.
is a plot. (Except that I can never remember which is story and which is plot, and they always feel backwards to me when I look it up, and who cares anyway. It's just jargon. Roll with me, please.) The connection is the difference.
Now, a story in which those two things happen, even with that causal connection, isn't very interesting. There needs to be something at stake for our characters, something that they want that might or might not happen. If you're turning the above screenplay logline into a real story, the issue at stake is "will Giles die because Buffy has died?" If you're Henry James, the issue at stake might be whether something somebody said in a drawing room is going to destroy a marriage. If you're Larry Niven, it's whether Schaeffer can figure out the tidal effect before his close pass of the neutron star squashes him like a bug. Whatever it is, physical or emotional, something must be at stake. Without that, there's no conflict, and therefore the reader falls asleep in his armchair instead of finishing reading your fiction. And that would be yucky.
This is all obvious stuff, I know. But apparently I needed the reminder.
From this conversation I figured out that the first three sections of my novel-length Watcher/Slayer bond story are not standalone. They require the larger structure, with its overall conflict, to gain story-nature. This also snapped some aspects of part 5 of this thing into focus. Each section has its own mini-arc, its own small conflict to be resolved. And each of these mini-conflicts has to be related in some way to the larger overall conflict. Part 5 was missing that connection. Now I have to figure it out. I have an idea. Now to work out all the details. Ugh. More work.
Well, I guess I'm learning a lot about how to write novels from this experience. Or one way to write them.