Last night, I talked about the importance of character cards for fiction writers to help them keep the details of a character's physical description and personality straight. Tonight, I want to talk about constructing a plot line.
Plot line is pretty much what it sounds like. It's most easily done on a large piece of butcher paper that you can pin up on a wall in your office or house. (I've also done it vertically on regular paper that is scotch-taped together end to end.) It includes one or more time lines for the plot(s) of the novel.
First, there's a space for each chapter of the novel on the main plot line. At each chapter "notch" on the line, you list the significant events of that chapter and the main/secondary characters that are affected by them.
Second, if timeframe is important or you have parallel stories, like I did in my first novel, you include days of the week or dates of the year or times of day for each chapter or episode within a chapter, depending on the sequencing of your plots, so that you can keep that straight and help readers to do so as well.
Third, you can use the plot line to track the narrative arc and/or the protagonist's moves towards and away from what he wants (Robert McKee suggests using a +/x/- system here).
All of these things can give you a better handle on what's happening in your stories and help you check for missing events/chapters, redundancies, or illogical or non-chronological decisions you've made.