Writing 101: Index Card Plotting

Today I will go over one way you can plot and organize your novel. This is what I’m currently doing.

Materials: Index cards (white and multi-color), index card box (I use the more expensive ones that have the metal siding, they look best and are more durable than the plastic ones), and the plastic tabbed sorts that are made for these kinds of boxes (I use to separate the chapters).

To start off with, I cut each index card in half. Using only one sentence per card seems a waste, so I do this to have more materials to write on. If you have an idea for a scene, go ahead and write down the idea in one sentence on a card half. Do this for as many scenes as you can, because you may find you get more ideas as you write them down. For the different story elements that make up the story, I use a different colored card. Below is an idea of how I color code them.

Main Story: for the main story, I use the white index cards because they are the easiest to find and they come in a pack of their own color.

Subplots: If you’d like you can use a different color for each subplot. I use one color for all of them. To keep them separated, I simply assign each subplot a number and write it in the upper corner of the card. This also helps keep track of them in the story, if multiple subplots are used in one chapter.

Worldbuilding: This category is self-explanatory I think. If your world uses magic, creatures, or something more normal like a type of gun, this color is what you’d use for the scene sentence. This way, you know at a glance that you need to include it into the chapter so that your readers will know it’s something important to the characters and their everyday life.

POV Change: This may not apply to everyone’s stories, but mine includes a different character’s point of view (POV) each chapter. I add these cards to each grouping of cards to remind myself of which character’s voice is needed.

Relationships: I use two colors of cards for my current story. One color for my main character (MC) and his father, another color for the MC and his love interest.

These are the five categories I currently have. With the index cards, I can shuffle them around and figure out the paths each chapter needs to go in to be able to advance the story. After I decide what goes into each chapter, I can group them together and place them behind a card separator. Using these, I can lay them out in the order I want them to appear in the chapter to keep myself on point as I write. Depending on what I come up with on the spot as I write each chapter, I can add those elements into later chapters to create more to the story.

If you decide to try this way of plotting, I hope it goes well for you. Are there any story elements I may have not included that you use? Comment below to tell me what it is and how well it works for you!

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