The Index Card Method

English: Scanned image of standard 3x5 notecar...

Insert brilliance here

When I first started writing my novel, I subscribed to the evolutionary method, the idea that the storyline and character development would materialize as they were supposed to, during the natural course of writing.

This intuitive approach felt right to me.  It helped the characters lead the story and sometimes it seemed the plot developed on its own, independent of my needs.  I was just a vessel of transference onto the page.

Since “completion,” the story has gone through several rewrites.  Plot points that were not strong enough have been transformed into something I feel better about.  Characters that were not complex enough have grown.  And the original draft of the novel is no longer recognizable.

I’ve added characters and deleted characters.  In fact, one memorable cast member bit the proverbial dust early on in the process, which was terribly upsetting to a friend/peer reader of mine (I found her reaction to the loss amusing and oddly rewarding).

And with all the cutting and rewriting, I found myself getting lost.  Scenes were disorganized in my head, characters were fuzzy.  And if the flow in my head was not working, I surmised, then the course of the story on the page would surely be affected.

I needed a new method.

After doubting myself and my effort (woe is me) for the whole of a day, I decided to take action.

I dug out some index cards – a tool I haven’t utilized since college – and sat down with my thoughts.  I started by jotting down a few words onto each card and when I was finished, one card represented one scene in the novel.  For instance, the first card says “funeral scene.”

Next, I went through the cards with the word document in front of me.  When I realized I had forgotten a scene, I just added a new index card to the stack.  Then I went through the cards again, one by one, thinking about the organization of the story.  More than once, I switched a few cards around to help the flow.

After the cards seemed to be in the correct order, I sighed with relief.  I really felt solid about the progression the book had taken.  And for the first time, I think I might almost be finished. Almost.

For the past few days, I’ve sat with my note cards in front of me as I edited and wrote new scenes and organized my Word document.  And by the end, maybe the plot will be as complex – yet structured – as I envision.

Anyone else have a favorite organization method they’d like to share?

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  1. Hannah

     /  December 14, 2011

    Maybe now you will give the intelligent design theory a chance. 🙂 Best of wishes with your writing!

  2. Mamas

     /  December 15, 2011

    Well, anything is possible … 😉

    • Hannah

       /  December 16, 2011

      I do like the index card idea. I’ll give it a try when I sit down and write my book. 🙂 You’ve been writing a lot more than I have lately, but I always use the outline method.

  1. Let’s just skip the apology « I am a writer … dangit.
  2. The Reflex to Index « I am a writer … dangit.

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