You see, it takes Rimmer a week to make this epic timetable. That's a week he can't spend revising for the astronavigation exam. It's also a week that he'd already planned into the timetable itself, rendering it pretty much completely useless. Because of this, he is forced to devise a new timetable, which also takes a week to produce, and thus is also completely useless. This happens two or three more times without Rimmer doing any revision whatsoever. Eventually he realises that the timetable has also sprouted an extra September and that he is an hour late for the exam...which he fails for the thirteenth time in a row. Shortly afterwards, he is vapourised by a reactor malfunction.
Didn't think so.
A plan--whether it's for a novel, or for an astronavigation exam--should be simple, and it should be easy to change. The entire point of a plan is to give you an opportunity to change things without having to delete pages of text and hours of hard work. If you come up with some sort of colour-coded, laminated monstrosity, you might as well have just gone ahead and jumped right into the novel, because it'll be a nightmare to change that perfect plan, even when that's exactly what you need to do. Planning helps you get your story set in stone, but the plan itself should be changeable, disposable, because once the story is written, the plan is nothing.
Record cards can be moved around, allowing you to change the order of events or look at the story from a new angle.
Record cards are too small to include an extra September.I'm only sort of kidding about the September thing. The small size of record cards (3x5 inches, typically) forces you to think in terms of plot points rather that scenes, which is excellent if your plans normally go into too much detail. However, I first tried using record cards in preparation for NaNoWriMo last year, and found that it was also an excellent method for coming up with a plan really quickly: this one took less than a week. I have to admit, before I tried doing it this way, I never really planned novels out at all, largely because I just wanted to get stuck right in.
This is just one example of how you could rearrange record cards. You can lay them out literally any way you want. Got main characters wandering all over the place? Not sure Bob's story is pulling its weight? Make things easier for yourself by just laying out the cards Bob appears on. Alternatively, take Bob's cards out of the deck and see how it changes the story. Any sections fall apart? Any sections where he's not even missed? You could also set out the different character storylines side by side, something like this:
It's worth noting that even at this late stage in the planning process for my book, none of the characters even had names. My protagonist was still simply called "the Hero." People can get awfully sentimental about character names, but if you're just interested in ironing the creases out of the plot, they really don't matter. Similarly, the "Empire" antagonist later turned into a foreign trader with a band of mercenaries, overly keen to "civilise" the protagonists' stone age society (and turn a healthy profit by convincing them to grow cash crops for export). I feel like this is a more interesting, believable motivation for the "bad guy." If I'd stuck rigidly to the first version of the plan, I'd have been lumbered with a bloodthirsty "Grrr! Conquer everything!" antagonist who just liked to break stuff. The beauty of the record cards is that you can swap out anything, anytime (though in this case it was less work just to read "Empire" as "merchant"). Plot now, sort the details out later!
Personally, I tied not to add anything to my character cards unless it had already been written into the story itself. As well as keeping trivial details out of the finished book, this meant that I couldn't fool myself into thinking that I had a well-rounded character, when in fact all I had was a well-rounded character sheet. The card in the bottom right corner, for example, reads:
A chief unfortunate enough to have had his femur turned into an arrowhead by the KasseKo hunter, BakaRo.
You can rearrange them however you like.
If you've written yourself into a corner, you can easily replace the cards that aren't working out.
You can spread them out on the floor in various ways, tracking where characters are or how various storylines play out.
You can easily focus on just one segment of story, if you have to.
The small size of the cards forces you to focus on major plot points.
They're exceedingly cheap and easy to get hold of.
They offer a readily available, easily stackable source of things to scribble notes on if (like me) you'd ordinarily just use the back of an envelope.