Before I move on, I'm going to address a few things that have come up in comments.
First of all, Allison, you are very welcome. I'm glad you've found the series helpful in some way. Sometimes I wonder if my ramblings make ANY sense to anyone other than myself. :-)
Janet is FULL of questions and good ones too! First of all, we'll hit the "plot" question. She said, "Spotting unnecessary plot contrivances is quite difficult. Any thoughts on what questions we could ask about the event to help us decide if it's a contrivance or not?"
The easy answer is...is the event the direct result of something that's already happened. If no, look at it again. In other words, is it something that is happening TO your character causing a REACTION instead of PROACTION. Reactive characters...ones that react to WHAT is happening instead of being PROACTIVE (using their motivations) can be the death knell to your ms finding its way to publication.
Is the event out of the blue? Is everything going on swimmingly and then BAM! something happens? This is what I call monkey wrench syndrome. If you don't have enough conflict for your characters, you feel the need to throw a complication in their way...a monkey wrench into the works. I'm guilty of it. And these things are spotted a mile away, trust me.
Now..that's not to say you can't have ANY external plot. Something has got to put these two characters in the same place at the same time. And you CAN get away with a spot or two. It can add drama. I'll give you a cryptic sort of example, because I don't want to give away the ending of Hired By The Cowboy. But I do have an external event close to the ending and it brings things to a nice emotional pitch, I think. However, a few chapters earlier, I had to rewrite an entire scene, because it, added in with the other, made for too much external conflict. That scene changed so that what happened came from WITHIN my heroine, not from her REACTING to something else that happened. My editor was very astute making me change that.
I hope that helped.
Tomorrow I'll tackle Janet's next question which deals with my post on beginnings!