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Notes about notecards

Some clarification for asakiyume. And because I meant to speak a bit more about the note cards, but it was after 2 a.m. when I made my previous, already-extremely-long post (in other words: not enough functioning brain cells).

I like to make lists. However, I've found making lists for scenes1 on a sheet of paper, in a notebook, or in a word processing file is not very practical, especially not when one is writing a three-volume2 story with five different POV characters. I like to use the corkboard feature in Scrivener (card graphics below taken from Scrivener) but only after I've drafted out "real" cards.  For composing, I work best (solely) on the computer, but for brainstorming, nothing beats scrawling out ideas longhand. YMMV. 

Enter index cards.

Ideally, I would use color-coded cards from the outset to see better at a glance how many scenes (and their placement3), but back when I first bought some, I could only find white.  Because I don't like to waste* and I'm not ready to commit to any one idea just yet, I do my first brainstorming session in pencil. If working with color, it isn't necessary, but if using white cards, I write the POV's name at the top and then write something really basic like this:

Picture 20

This is the sort of thing I allow myself to write down.  It is just a hint of what I need to accomplish, but it is actually one of the more "developed" cards. Mirco has to escape; an escape can't just "happen," so I have my next idea for a card:


And on and on I go, letting ideas spill out, shoving the finished card aside and writing the next without stopping to judge my ideas. The whole "without judgement" aspect would not be possible if I tried to write complete scene synopses right out of the gate.

Sometimes I have to stop and think about what could/should happen next.  Sometimes I realize I have to backtrack and set something up. Sometimes inspiration for the end flashes into my mind. And sometimes, an idea for another character occurs to me.  I just write it down on another card and go with it, moving from character to character until I have the basic story down. I shuffle the ideas into more or less chronological order by character.

Then--and this is where it helps to have a dedicated space, like my ghetto "cork"boards (especially if you have small children or pets4)--I start pinning up the cards, first by character to make sure I have a complete arc. Oftentimes I know at the outset I don't have a complete arc because two POVs are in the same place/scene somewhere in the story, and I haven't decided through whose eyes we'll be seeing the action. (This is where I am now in the re-plotting process.)

Next I start moving the cards to weave the story lines together, paying attention to chronology and reveals,  a challenging task with multiple POVs on different landmasses. I often discover I need additional scenes or that I can cut things because I've either repeated myself or because cards/ideas can be combined. 

Once I'm happy with what I have, I start  will start filling in my color-coded cards, making sure to flesh out each white-card entry into a full scene synopsis, complete with character goal and stakes. 

I drafted volume one of Witherwilds using just the white cards, as in the images above, and sadly, I find myself with a lot of scenes that aren't carrying their weight. I'm writing epic fantasy and because of the story expectations that genre carries those scenes need to accomplish more. Different genres promise readers different things, so my worries over my scenes are not going to be the same as someone writing, say, romance.

As I said before, I won't necessarily use white cards before colored on my next book, but I will brainstorm in pencil first so I can erase and reuse them to flesh out the initial kernel.  I really don't like wasting. :P

So, yes, asakiyume, each card is a scene. But they don't start out that way. Since I'm replotting the books now, I am redoing the cards for book one, already written. It has helped me to see that some scenes are not clear on goal, conflict, introduction of new information, or change. You can use cards at any point in the writing process, I think.

To sum up, index cards are a brainstorming and refining tool for me. Conflict, or lack thereof, and not maximizing scene potential are two of my biggest bugabears in writing, and I'm hoping that I'll be able to best them if I can just force coax myself into spending more time planning...

1I use the word "scene" loosely here, denoting any cool, necessary, or interesting tidbit I want to include in my book.

2I actually don't like saying I am writing a trilogy because I am not telling a story that breaks down into three separate books, each having its own independent "story" to neatly tie up at "The End."    

3This way it is easy to see how long you've been neglecting a character or if you have five scenes in a row from the same POV. It all depends on the story, but I don't necessarily like following a strict order of A, B, C, A, B, C, A, B, C...

4My icon is from when I did this scene-ordering technique on the floor of our living room in Mayotte. And yeah, N'djema was a real help in putting the cards in the right order. o.O
*khiemtran, I'm anxious to recycle these cards for my Arabic alphabet. :P


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 19th, 2012 04:36 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is cool and is exciting for me, because I can see how it lets you accomplish balance--which is something I'm trying to keep in my mind as I write, but I can see how, if you have the scenes for each character, you can recognize right away how the balance is working.**

And I totally agree about longhand brainstorming. Sometimes I write down my own questions for myself and then try answering them, and writing it out longhand somehow helps *more* than typing.

And I like your corkboards :D

**And I see how, the longer the overarching project is, the more true this would be. I find it an issue even with a short YA/middle-grade story of 80,000 words or less; you're writing multiple volumes, each of which is probably longer, and for an older audience.

Aug. 21st, 2012 08:35 pm (UTC)
Balance is one of the key things I aim for, for sure.

Interesting how "thinking" is not always best accomplished by typing. Must be some connection to the motor movements required and how they relate to the brain (my brain is too tired to make sense right now. :-< Afraid I'm not being clear. Time to go dream some more...and to put my dictaphone back by the bed!).

I think my standalones could definitely benefit from being "carded" and pinned up, but I absolutely HAVE to do it with the trilogy. All the threads feel tangled otherwise.
Aug. 21st, 2012 08:39 pm (UTC)
No, you're making good sense--I think it could very well have to do with the nature of the motor movement. Typing can be so fast that it's close to thinking, whereas writing longhand really requires you to slow down, and that makes you "interrogate your own thoughts" a little more. Maybe. I'm not making much sense, myself, and it's six hours earlier for me :-)
Aug. 20th, 2012 07:49 am (UTC)
Interesting, thanks! How do you cope with the second, better idea that comes along after you're done? I find I often end up with at least two different ways to write a scene and then I can't choose which.
Aug. 21st, 2012 08:39 pm (UTC)
Heh, I'd like to hear the answer to this, too. *hits "track this"*
Aug. 22nd, 2012 08:49 am (UTC)
ah ha. so that is what "track this" does. :P
Aug. 22nd, 2012 11:16 am (UTC)
Yep! Lets you see any further comment in the thread, even if it's not replying directly to your own comment. Handy!
Aug. 22nd, 2012 08:48 am (UTC)
I wanted to reply to this yesterday, but not enough brain cells. :P

Coping! Nice word choice because this really throws me for a loop when it happens; I have to do some coping before I can move on. That second, better idea is hard, hard, hard for me to deal with. I am one of those people who constantly gets better ideas or just ideas for tweaking/layering as I reread or rewrite, so I am confronted with this a lot. Sometimes the ideas don't conflict and incorporating them is a matter of adding a few sentences or doing a find-replace. Sometimes the ideas are so different from the existing material, I don't know what to do.

Do I scrap everything (in that scene, or sometimes BOOK!) that I have so far and go with the new? Do I tell the brain to be more forthcoming from the get-go next time and just ignore it? The latter is is especially tempting after I've just done my third or fourth editing pass.

When it is a matter of Better Idea being how to write one specific scene, I look at which way has more scope for excitement (not Hollywood special-effects excitement, mind you) and which way brings something new and unusual to the story in terms of character development, setting, action... If Better Idea has putting your character to a test or having them use an ability rather than, say, talking about something challenging with herself or another character, choose the one where you can show and not tell.

Many times, I end up using those better ideas. But not right away. First I will slug along with what I'm doing, telling myself that Better Idea will change the story too much, Better Idea will be too much work. So, after filing it away, I slug and I slug and I slug.

I finish.

Annnnnnnd I'm not happy. The story doesn't do what I wanted it to.

In hopes of finding inspiration, I reread everything I have about the story, all those notes and research, and--you guessed it, right?--I come across Better Idea. Only this time, I'm ready to put the effort into incorporating it in hopes that it will help the story. And yeah, it is a lot of work because I like to write in a way that everything I put down affects everything that comes after (stuff that looks like random bits has a point later in the story). But maybe it would be less work if I had listened to it at the beginning...

This only happens when Better Idea really is a Better Idea. Because sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it is an excuse to take the story in a different direction to avoid something painful or challenging, to go chasing Oh Shiny! when the (perfectly normal) story slumps come along...

How do you tell the difference? I haven't a clue.

Probably not the answer you wanted, is it? :P

All I know is that when an idea comes along that looks like a lot of work, I try to pay attention to how much it sings to me. Some ideas just really light a fire in your imagination because they slot soooo perfectly with what your story is about. For me, those are no-brainers and must be used. Others have a "cool factor" that may or may not be necessary depending on how much resonance (if that is your sort of thing) that they bring to a story. Perhaps asking oneself what Better Idea brings to the theme of the story, a kind of litmus test of viability, is the way to go? Some ideas however really do change the story too much, and that one idea will force the train of ideas down a completely different track. If Better Idea does that, that other track better be something you want to explore, I think, otherwise, set it aside to explore in another novel. I have a dedicated file for those Better Ideas. :D

Wow, that is rambly and I don't even know if I answered your question. :P

Aug. 22nd, 2012 10:22 am (UTC)
Thanks! That was very helpful. I like the idea of an idea "singing" to you... I know sometimes the newer, better idea seems like it belonged there all along, but other times I just can't tell, and I end up either writing two very similar scenes so I can use All The Cool Ideas, or I just end up vacillating between two alternate plotlines. In an ideal world, I guess, I'd get two completed novels for the price of one. It never quite works out for me like that though.. (I did read about one author (I forgot who he was, but he wrote in Spanish (which doesn't narrow it down much, obviously)) who would tell his neighbour a summary of the plot he had written each day, only when he was done it turned out the novel he had finished had a completely different plot and he was just airing out all the roads not taken...
Aug. 22nd, 2012 11:21 am (UTC)
Haha--I love the story of the Spanish-writing author.
Aug. 22nd, 2012 11:16 am (UTC)
This sounds like *exactly* my process for dealing with Better Ideas, too :-P
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )


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