Index Cards

Index Cards: Ah, these tiny white cards, sure they kill trees, but there really isn't anything better than for randomly rearranging your scenes and seeing what comes up.

Here's how I use index cards. I write a separate index card for each scene. If we go back to the outline post, is labeled in the letters (A, B, C etc.). I write all of the information the on I outline and then I lay them out on the table. This works well if you have a name for each of your scenes that tells you in a phrase what is in it. Now, it takes some time to write this all out, but hang in there. I promise the fun is just beginning.

If you are one of those people who wrote the book from beginning to end in the order the story unfolded, then this method is going to make the plotting your final novel a lot of fun. A lot of the fun of writing a novel comes in discovering the story as it unfolds. But I have a lot of fun with a game I call, Let's Deal A Novel. This is how it works:

1) I stack up all of the index cards into two stacks. Then I shuffle them lie they are a deck of playing cards.

2) I set up one pile for each chapter in the novel.

3) Deal out the cards until all cards are dealt

4) Turn them over one by one.

5) Now take out the "Must Have Scenes" and put them in order. The short list of  "Must Haves" Hook, Climax, Resolution.

6) Fill in with the rest of the scenes in the order in which they were dealt.

7) Ask the question does this make the novel more interesting? If No, shuffle everything but the "Must Haves" and deal again. If yes, then move on to the revision stage.

8) Pick out scenes that need to be in a particular order. Pick where that thread will begin and feather them through the deck.

9) Repeat steps 7&8 until you have a novel that makes sense and evaluate.

10) Lock in final sequence by numbering your cards (in pencil) and then putting them into your outline.

The point of this tool, is to increase your mental flexibility around your scenes and to get you to pay attention to pacing, tension, and narrative in your novel.

You may feel at then end of reordering the scenes, that you liked the original better. That's fine. There is no right or wrong way to plot a novel. But sometimes I feel frustrated with my story, and this helps me to break free of those ideas. I like to cluster write as well, where I write a number of scenes all about one topic, and then I need to space them out. By shuffling the deck, I find I get a more organic story than me putting them in there. I find this keeps the reader more engaged with my books. My number one priority when writing a book is trying to keep my reader engaged in the subject. But even if you don't "deal a novel" index cards are a good tool for reordering scenes to see if they make sense, or increase tension, or interest in the story. It's easy to swap two scenes on the table, and see what happens. It costs you nothing more than a little bit of time to make the cards and to consider it. And it's easier to do than any other way.

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