Some people start a novel only knowing the beginning and ending and then create the journey as they go along. I’m not that free spirited; I found that I needed more structure because I tend to ramble.
For my first novel, I started out with a chapter summary. For each chapter, I listed several bullet point items that had to happen to keep the story on track. Of course, as I wrote , I had some changes to the story line and additional chapters, which required changes to the chapter summary.
After I finished my first draft, I realized that I wanted to use some of the characters in my next book. That’s when I decided to create a character description spreadsheet. I set up columns for: character name; age; hair color/style; eye color; additional characteristics/description (for other physical traits and behavioral mannerisms) and Books (where I list the book title(s) which use the characters). As I work on my second novel, I keep the spreadsheet open and add information as I write so I don’t have to go back and fill it in after the fact. This also helps keep me consistent when I reference a character’s trait in later chapters.
It should have been obvious, but one thing I didn’t do on my first novel was to actually write down the conflicts and resolutions. I knew the big one – find out who did it (it’s a mystery). I didn’t really think about the personal or relationship conflicts that would arise in the story and need resolution to show character growth. This didn’t come up until I started working on my query letter (which I still haven’t finished – I’m procrastinating).
On my second novel, I’ve written down the conflicts and resolutions. This, along with the chapter summary, should keep me more focused on the story line. Of course, I won’t know for sure how well it works until I’m done with the novel; I’ll let you know in a year or two!