With Nanowrimo fast approaching we've all been focusing on sketching out the core elements of our proposed novels, developing our plot, and generally just trying to figure out what to write. Everyone has their own system, from free-balling to notes on index cards. For those of you without a system, you may want to check out the You Can Write A Novel Kit from James V. Smith. This handy little box comes with a book detailing how to develop a book from conceptualization to ending and handy little sheets to help you develop major and minor characters, outline chapters, and develop scenes. The tear-sheets kind of remind me of Yatzee score cards but instead of keeping track of dice, you can hash out things like character background, relevance of a scene to the overall plot, and review chapters to make sure key revelations have been met.
The book itself is quite handy. The elements are logically delineated and information is presented so that it is both visually appealing and easy to understand and incorporate. I especially like the little chart that shows the Master Story Model. This model is good for those of you wanting to insure the right amount of action/peaks at the right places. The also make great guideposts that give your story some direction with room to evolve as characters start to muck around on their own (which mine always do).
The book closes with invaluable tips on revising to help you tighten up your novel and avoid dreadful mistakes. Each tip is itemized with easy to follow exercises so you can quickly read through and start utilizing them right away.
All-in-all, the kit is a great planning and revising tool for those looking to get a better handle on the cumbersome aspects of writing a novel. Once you get a feel for it, you can muddle with the forms and outlines to suit your personal tastes. It's not a sure fire way to develop a winning novel, but its the most compact, inclusive, and easy to use resource I have found as a new novelist. I hope it helps you out, too. Good luck with Nanowrimo!