Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How to Plan for NaNoWriMo, part 4: Index Cards

Hi! Over the last couple weeks I've shared some of my favorite tricks for planning a story, bubble-mapping and drawing. Both of those are strategies I use for brainstorming and planning a story. This next strategy focuses on organizing your ideas so that you're ready to write.

Equipment required: Colored pens, index cards*, and tape.

It's likely that as you've thought about your story, some of the story's moments have become very clear in your head. Examples: Your hero meets her mentor. Your hero steals a golden apple. Your villain hacks into the NORAD computers, and thinks he's undetected.

Write each of these idea-moments on a separate index card.

Notice that I've used two colors on this card. Each major character has his or her own color. That way, when I organize the cards, I'll be able to follow each of their storylines and see any gaps. (When a major character is offstage, as, for example, the wizard Simon is in parts of the Jinx books, you still need to know where s/he is and what s/he's doing.)

Now look at your bubble-maps. (See last week's post.) Read through them carefully. Identify anything in your maps that looks like it should be a scene or a story-moment.

Make a separate index card for each of these story moments.

Keep making index cards till you run out of scenes and story moments.

(Note: If I have a lot I want to write on a card, I sometimes start out with a Sharpie, but finish with a ballpoint pen.)

Now, it's time to play with your cards.

Sort through them. You'll notice that some of the scenes clearly belong at the beginning of the story, others near the end. Lay them out on a flat surface, in the order in which you think they might occur. The beginning of the story goes at the top, the end of the story at the bottom. If two or more ideas seem like they should happen at the same time, put them side-by-side.

Keep moving them around till you think you've got them where you want them.

You'll probably find some of your cards don't fit in anywhere. That's okay. It may be that those scenes don't actually belong in the story, or it may be that you'll figure out a place for them later.

You may also find gaps. Don't worry about that right now either.

When you think you have all the cards in the right order, tape them to the wall.

In the picture above, I have the scenes taped to the wall in order, top to bottom, but there are things missing. There are some thin spaces at the top. At the bottom, just before the closing scene, there's a gap that goes right across... I've got nothing. It's possible you'll have similar gaps in your own story. (Example: your hero is captured by the evil villain, and then she is welcomed home. But you're missing the escape scene.) 
Now it's time to fill in those gaps.

Take some more blank index cards. Think about what scenes you might use to fill in the gaps. Jot them on the cards, and add them to the wall.

Read through what you've got.

Now look at the storyline for each of your main characters. (Just follow his or her color-code down the wall.) Do any individual characters have gaps? It's okay, for now, if they do. They may end up having gaps in the story. Just remember that you've always got to know where the major characters are, and, if they leave the story in the middle, you have to know what became of them. If a major character is left hanging, fill in an index card to show what he's doing.

When your wall of cards is finished, you're ready to write.

You can start writing your novel directly from what's on the wall.

Or you can divide your wall into chapters, hanging a slip of paper with the chapter number on it next to each section on the wall. (I've done that in the last picture above.)

Or you can use your wall display as a basis for a traditional written outline.

I've tried all of these, and they all work.

And there you have 'em, as Casey Kasem used to say. My three main strategies for pre-writing a novel. I hope you find them useful for planning your own.

Good luck!

*Some writers use sticky notes instead of index cards. I like the index cards because they're sturdier, easier to rearrange, and cheaper.

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