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Plotting using 3"x5" cards

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Caged Maiden, Jul 30, 2016.

  1. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    HI folks!

    This is a method I've tried and failed to use multiple times, but I was hoping to get a little insight into how you all make it work.

    Basically, the idea of using 3"x5" cards is great, one that really appeals to me. It would allow me to shuffle things around and make sense of where certain plots begin and end. But the problem I'm having in about how much I can actually fit on the card.

    Here are my questions:

    I've seen a lot of examples of using cards to slot plots into place, but to me, they feel pretty loose and hasty. As in, the card will say:

    Well, not to be a dick, but I'm a little beyond that kind of thing. That's the first building blocks of plot, and I don't need note cards to help me establish those basic details (thought I see how it could be beneficial in building a new story). I'm more concerned with filling in minute plot points and keeping a closer eye on where they increase in pertinence and become solved or otherwise less pertinent to the story at given times.

    People have advised using different colors for each act, or using colors to help keep plot lines organized, but I've only got three colors, and if I were literally using cards to organize plot points, I'd need about five more, and then the colors still wouldn't denote anything specifically, other than which sub plot they represent. Is that really less confusing than just using all one color? Any thoughts?

    I've been wasting time looking at a blank page, so it isn't like I'm looking for a quick fix, but I'm looking for a solution to a specific problem, not just another jaunt around writing-procrastinationville, with no clear goal. And honestly, every time I add a paragraph to my outline or fill out a note card, i'm just adding in what I already know. How could I use this tool to actually discover the connections I'm missing, or am I simply trying out the wrong tool for the job at hand?


    Any other thoughts you have for organizing...I'm all ears. I have a difficult problem, and I'm really stumped. I am rewriting a novel, so there isn't a real reason for me to "plug SOMETHING in there" or to skip ahead to a scene I am more sure of. I am working on a transitional chapter, and I'm trying to decide how best to have the MC proceed. What I hoped to accomplish was to storyboard the whole story as I KNEW it first, and then leave the blanks for now, so I could fill in those bits of information on cards after I had the outcomes all written.

    I really suck at plotting and planning, but I'm really trying to give this a go. I just seem to be missing the capability a more logical mind possesses. Any help is appreciated.
     
  2. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I try to include two key things on my note cards:

    1) On the bottom left corner I write: BUT, and on the bottom right corner I write: SO.

    This way EVERY scene leads to the other in some way. If the scenes could be connected with "AND THEN..." Then they need to be cut. The only way scenes should connect is with:

    Sophie went to the movies

    BUT - Martin was there.

    SO - She decided to go the restaurant

    BUT - Martin followed her...

    You get the idea. I make sure every scene starts with So and ends in But.

    2) On the top left hand side of the card I write either a + or a -. This represents the character emotion for the scene. This helps to make sure the character is changing from scene to scene and has a variety of emotions. So if a character starts the scene with + (happy, confident) then they need to end the scene with - (afraid, worried, insecure). If I start a scene with - then I need to end the scene with +.
     
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  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    So, I tried that method, Heliotrope, but it didn't work for. ;-)

    More to the point, there are places in the narrative where I have to jump forward. Or switch POVs. Or otherwise interrupt that tight chain of events. It works pretty well, though, when working through scenes within a chapter or close sequence of chapters.
     
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  4. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    You know what I need? A HUGE MIW brainstorm! OMG!!! I'm so lost right now, and I feel like the note cards are not going to save me from drowning. HA! You'll all find me face down in the pool in the morning, with little neon cards clogging the pool filter. This is rough.

    Thanks, Helio, I'll read the articles and see if any of those connect with me!
     
  5. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    The only thing I've ever found useful with notecards, and this was screenwriting, was so I could layout the primary plotline, and see where the subplots would fit most dramatically/logically. Other than that... Trying to think when I found them useful... Nope. Can't do it. They are like little 3x5 sirens calling, but they never seem to have anything helpful to say.

    So, this might just be my least useful post ever, heh heh.
     
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I've tried index cards. Never worked for me either. 'Course, I didn't try neon. Maybe that's the secret. But keep away from the pool, CM; it'll short out the neon.

    A thing I think I have noticed about myself. When I'm stuck, or feeling stuck, or just plain avoiding the story, I sometimes dress that up as a search for tools, methods, etc. That way I believe I'm "working" when working is precisely what I'm not doing.
     
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  7. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Yeah, I'm with you guys. The note cards are back in the box, because it isn't worth my time to write "Raisa goes to a party. She has an argument with Martin" on a card. Duh...I already know that. I wrote the scene out. What I need is the nitty-gritty details of exactly what kinds of insults she throws at him, so I can properly spice up the scene and make readers laugh or cringe.

    HA!

    I'm with you guys. I think it's more of an initial outlining tool. It's as good but not better than my little graph with the X's and -'s on it. That tells me where plot lines begin and end, and I really can't get any more detailed on note cards.

    I've moved on, thanks to Helio (again). She said what I was missing was a CHOICE for my character in these scenes I have planned...and why is it when someone smart says it like that, it becomes so obvious?

    I'm so lucky to have friends who are on the ball...while I'm treading water in the pool...and trying to keep my head above water.

    Honestly, I'm not even sure what I'm doing right now, and I know that's just a recipe for disaster when you're writing a book, but seriously, I'm just trying to put something together to get back on track, because this has been really discouraging, taking a week break and having no more clarity at its end than I had last week.
     
  8. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Not that I know your writing style... But I used to be a write it in order person, chapter one, chapter two, chapter 3, etc. Not purely true, because I'd write different POV's, but in order. I seem to recall Sanderson say he writes this way. I discovered for me that it's the wrong approach. I want to write that way, but when I find a roadblock, I'll write scenes from anywhere in the book... I wrote the end of book 3 before the end of book 1, and wrote part of the possible prologue to three after that, but before chapter 5 of book 2, and so on and so on, these later pieces always seem to point to the details I need in previous chapters.

    It was a shocking truth and a difficult one at first to force myself into, but since embracing it the only time I've been stuck in the past year was when I briefly forgot this and was banging my head on the opening chapter to book 2... Duh, write what comes after and it will tell me what's needed to get there.

    Of course, different things for different people.
     
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  9. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    yeah, I'm working on a rewrite, and while I could skip around, I'm trying to build a consistency at this point because the first draft is getting majorly overhauled and i'm adding new chapters, and rewriting and replacing old ones. I have three chapters finished, that total about 32k words, but I'm getting through act 1 and I'm feeling like it has a saggy middle bit. I have some things to accomplish to move the plot forward, but I'm struggling to make it interesting and engaging, rather than utilitarian, and since this rewrite is supposed to take it to a sort of final draft, I just can't plug in whatever I feel like, it has to be sort of linear in a way.

    Hope that makes sense.

    What i'm writing today will have greater ripple effects down the line, so I kinda have to work with where I am and keep building though I know where it will end, I'd just hate to write a later scene and then have to go back and rewrite it again because I changed the beginning bits. But sometimes, as you write a later scene, it helps you to sort out some earlier details that were weak, so both work, I suppose.
     
  10. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Yeah, Helio's basic "But" method is probably pretty good for sagging middles. But of course it's hard to say without seeing the work, LOL. I don't make cards, but I will for the fun of it go back and check on scenes to see if they achieve certain markers. Such as taking a look at a scene and identifying:

    POV
    Goal
    Scene Question or Conflict
    Setback or Scene Answer
    Tensions

    But rewrites are at least as personal as the initial writing process, overhauls can be daunting, so just have to fight until you find the path through the woods.
     
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  11. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    lol "basic butt..."

    What would that be? Not quite Kim Kardashian, not quite J Lo?

    OMG, I'm adopting the humour of my five year old.
     
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  12. Addison

    Addison Auror

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    I've recently made my own variation of this card method. I combined that with the 4 act structure.

    For those who aren't aware, the structure supports 4 acts in a story. Act 1 is the Set Up, Act 2 is the Response, Act 3 is the Attack, Act 4 is the Resolution. Act 1 ends on the First Plot Point, Act 2 Holds the First Pinch Point and ends on the Mid Point, Act 3 Holds the Final Pinch Point and ends on the Second Plot Point, Act 4 holds the Climax and Resolution.

    So what I now do is I get a clean poster board and divide it in fourths. Either by sharpie or ribbon. Each box holds an act, and each box holds index cards chronicling the main events of the first act. At first I tried colored post-it notes, but then it got confusing when they hung over the box dividers. So I stuck with index cards and, to organize main plot points and sub plots I used smaller little divider stickies as indicators. It works great! I can't remember the last time I had a story so organized in my head. Buts a Pantser I only start the board after I finish the first draft.
     
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  13. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Addison I do the same ^^^ lol! I LOVE that chart style of four rows.
     
  14. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I'm all about dat bass, no treble
     
  15. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    There are index cards in Scrivener and I'm having a hella hard time with the program.

    I like the idea of free flow: opening up the word doc and just writing. Scrivener is an outliner's dream come true. Sure, I memorize plot points but am by no means an outliner. I quickly shut down at the thought of having to plan my scenes with first you do this, then you do that, then that, then etc.

    No.

    So Scrivener has these little index cards separated chapter by chapter. I've gone in there and sorted out the tangled, hot mess of notes and put up the plot points in the scene cards. As my kid says, "wooooord!" Easiest thing ever now to write it. The plot points are at the top and I write on the bottom. Yes, I'm slower than molasses on Scrivener but it's coming to me.

    What I'm saying is, that if you like index cards Maiden, try Scrivener. It has a steep learning curve but it's great at keeping things organized. My brain is still resisting because I don't like being confined, but what I'm finding with Scrivener is that it's forcing me to look at my story in a concrete way. There are things I need to be getting right/down and it's gotten easier to do that with Scrivener, which I was adamantly against for a very long time.
     
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  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Chesterama, here is how I have used it in the past. Not every time, but more than once.

    I open a new project. I create a new file. Just one. I start writing. Everything goes into that one document, just as it would in Word.

    Eventually, I run out of steam. I will not call it a first draft because it's somewhere between rough notes and an actual draft. But the story is at least somewhat clear in my head.

    Then I start a new folder. Inside of that folder I start creating cards. I read through the too-rough draft and I use the cards to outline *what I've actually written*. No ideal outlines for me; they never correspond to reality anyway. But I do find it useful to go back through the mess and start identifying where the story beats are.

    Those note cards form a framework for a rewrite. What others might call a first draft. A coherent story, though with plenty of room for cleaning up the prose and fixing continuity and characterization problems.

    In other words, I don't *start* with the cards, but I do use them to help me bring order to my disorderly early sketches. Before I used Scrivener, I still had to do this, but I did it by hand.
     
  17. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Hey, I didn't know that you can open a new file and just start writing into it. Thank you, Skip! Doing it the way you suggested would actually be much easier. I'm finding Scrivener to be handy but the learning curve is steeper than Mt. McKinley!
     
  18. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    If you have other questions, just ask. Several of us here have been using it for a while.
     
  19. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    I tried using index cards, and they didn't work for me. Though, being able to see the layout of my story, scene by scene, in scrivener I find quite helpful in editing.

    As for planning out my plots, I find using Dan Well's seven point structure quite helpful. Filling out the seven points in a plot helps me to understand and organize my story. If I can't fill out the seven points, I find that I really don't understand my plot, and I really don't have a story, yet.

    To toot my own horn, here's an article I wrote about it with examples Big Picture Story Structure – Part 3: Seven-Point Plot Structure

    And if you want to get it from the horse's mouth, here's the first of five videos I watched to learn this structure.
    Dan Wells on Story Structure, part 1 of 5 - YouTube
     
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