Loving Index Cards!

Because I can’t obsess over more than one thing at a time, for some months, I completely abandoned my novel in favor of learning more about watercolor painting. I went to Boone, NC in May to take a class with Terry Harrison at Cheap Joe’s, and then in October, I took a class in Virginia Beach with Janet Rogers. I learned about composition and pigments and mixing colors. And from that, I realized that I need to design the novel, not just write it. Some people can just sit down and write a novel without a plan. They’re blessed with an innate sense of story. I’m not; or at least if I am, it’s a muddled, incomplete sense that gets buried in the details.

Now I’ve rediscovered index cards. I love WriteWay Pro, but I’ve found that I really like index cards to start with. Later, I can enter the info into WriteWay and keep everything at my fingertips.

5×8 Cards –Novel Components and Reference Cards – adapted from Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland; Christopher Voegler’s The Writer’s Journey, and Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham

Each character has one card

Each setting has one card

The Hook/Opening Line is written out on a card

The Overall Story Question for each of the main characters (all on one card)

Plot Point 1 (end of Act 1) where everything changes and the main characters have to “cross the threshold.” All characters share one card for each of the major plot points following.

The reaction to Plot Point 1 (beginning of Act 2) when the characters actually “cross the threshold”

The MidPoint (middle of Act 2) when the characters learn something major and go from reacting to problems to taking charge of their lives and their battles

Plot Point 3 (end of Act 2) when something big happens to knock the characters back – what’s the worst thing that could happen?

Reaction to Plot Point 3 – usually the lowest point in the character’s arc when they have to pull everything they’ve learned from mentors,allies and enemies together and rally for the last effort

Escalation to the Climax – briefly capture a list of events that need to happen

The Climax

The Resolution

3×5 Cards – the Scenes

I write a one-liner on a 3×5 card for each scene that needs to happen (some of these scenes may have already been written since I already have a draft of the novel). The first word is the POV character’s name. I may write some of these before I start the 5x8s, or I may write some 5x8s, get inspired, and crank out a bunch of 3x5s. It’s pretty fluid.

I throw the 3x5s into a plastic dishwashing pan (88 cents at Big Lots; usually less than $2 everywhere else), and as I come up with other possibilities for scenes and events I write them on more 3×5 cards. Once I’ve addressed all the needed character arc, plot and subplot points, I take the cards out and separate them into threads. Each main character might have several threads, which might be subplots, or changes in attitudes, or learning curves, or changes in a relationship that need to be shown. Then I fit the cards together or modify them so they’ll fit, making sure there is motivation, and story logic, and sensible time handling and all that. If it feels uncomfortable or awkward, it needs to go. Otherwise, it’s like Cinderella’s step-sister trying to fit her foot into the glass slipper. But don’t get me started on shoe size as a marker for meanness. Viva Princess Fiona! (Shrek). Anyway, if it doesn’t fit, I don’t try to make it fit, just like if I’m painting a southeastern swamp-scape, I leave out the grizzly bears.

So that’s what I’m in the middle of now with my Just-after-the-Civil-War novel. I’ve already written one draft, but I’m re-seeing it from scratch. I’ll probably use a lot of what I’ve already done, but I’m trying to keep an open mind, and stay ready to toss anything that doesn’t work. Once I have a good handle on the structure by using the cards, I’ll work on the scenes.

There’s a lot more to the structure of a novel which you can learn about in many, many venues. I recommend the books listed above.

I have another painting class scheduled in April. I hope I have this monster done by then!

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