Riders in dark armor riding through a leafless and snowy woods.
A man seeking a golden flower which may not be in the lands where he seeks it -- though it is definitely not in the lands where he came from.
A capricious and hot-tempered old wizard who twisted lands and paths.
Night hags with drab. blue skins, and teeth of iron.
Once upon a time, I would get a bright idea for a story -- a character, or usually, a sharp little scene -- and the story would crystallize about it. Or not, as the case may be. Sometimes I had to find the other idea, because it was really half an idea, and only when they were together would it crystallize, sometimes so suddenly that's hard to remember what the original part was.
As I developed, I would start to string together more ideas. There's a trick to working it out, to see if they fit. Even if they are all bright, gemlike eyes, some ideas are bold greens and reds and blues, while others are misty shades, a mossy green, a lucent blue, a fragile, rosy pink. Even with the variety you need in a story, some are just too different to string together like beads on a necklace.
The art, of course, lies in connecting, because you don't get enough bright ideas to fill the story up. You have to build backwards and forwards from its cause and to its consequences, and when more than one idea shows up, one has to be cause or consequence of the other, or be related to one of such a cause or consequence. Which means that working out the order is important.
Too much connection can be unwise. Whenever I'm stymied on an outline, I look at notes for neat things that would happen in the future, and grab any one of them that could happen then, and make it happen then.
And then the muse comes cavorting up with some notions, and, after some assembly, I conclude that the story, though high fantasy, is a Bildungsroman rather than a quest or such like plot, with more of the deceptively loose tying together of events. (It's only reading with a writer's eyes that shows me how books of incidents in a child's life subtly tied them together into a rising action.) And I do know her character arc that drives the story. It's just that it gives even fewer clues than most plots for suitable places to plop the ideas. . . . sigh