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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Writing 101: Finding Ideas

Hi everyone! To make up for lack of posts this past weekend, I have a few posts planned back to back. With any luck, my Internet connection will allow them to go through!

In this post, I will share some ideas on how to gain inspiration. Though each idea could be placed into its own post, I use everything at the same time, and each post would be really short.

First, I’ve already shared this one in a previous post. Pinterest. You can make as many boards as you’d like. You could have one board for the inspiring images for all your stories, or you could have multiple boards, one for each story or world you plan to write about.

On the I-Pad, there is an app called “Mental Class” where you can create virtual index cards that allows you to put images onto the front so you can see at a glance what is on the card. More on this in another post where I’ll go into more detail.

“Corkulous” is another I-Pad app where you can “pin” images, index cards and more on a virtual corkboard. This app allows you to type up notes, make labels and more. I believe I had a post about this app before, but I will go back and double check.

One more app I have gone over for the I-Pad is called “A Novel Idea”. This app allows you to write down your ideas in templates for characters, scenes, novels and more. You can also type up whole scenes which you can type over in your manuscript.

Here is an idea I got the year I got my first computer and began typing a story. I got a spiral notebook and used images that I cut out from magazines and catalogs that inspired my story. I even used the salespapers from the local paper to find faces of people who were easy to remember. Have you seen someobdy in one of these formats that you thought would work as a character in your story? Go ahead and cut them out! I did this and then used Scotch tape to tape the edges to the paper within the notebook. I’m going to go back over with clear packaging tape to further protect the images, even though they still look great after 15 years!

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Writing 101: Working on Scenes

Every writer is different. This is why I’m going to go against the grain and and offer this advice. Many books about writing tells the reader not to go back and reread what you have written. Instead, they say, to continue on with the story and do rewrites after you finish writing the first draft.

For those perfectionists like myself, this isn’t really conductive, as we think of new scenes or how to make a scene better. Personally, I like to write a scene and then go back after I believe the scene is finished and edit. I correct spellings, grammar errors and punctuation. Then, I go back through a second time and make sure the sentences work, are in the right order and that the scene is as tight as a rope, which is explained in a previous post.

Writing a scene and editing on another day might work for some, however, I work on the scene as I’m thinking of it. This doesn’t mean that I don’t reread the final product for editing and all of the other issues it may have. That is an important step that should never be overlooked.

Here is something you can try. After you finish a scene, take about ten minutes and run it through your mind. Can anything happen in the scene that you didn’t think of the first time? Remember, scenes are used to advance the story. The smallest thing could turn into a plot device for the rest of the story. This is the meaning of subtlety. Having the smallest thing affect the outcome of bigger scenes. Going back through the scene and taking time to think of it is an amazing exercise to get into the habit of doing. Always keep something handy so that you can write down the ideas you might get as you think of the scenes.

You may think to yourself, “I don’t think that will work for me”, or, “that is the worst advice I’ve ever read”. I’d have to say, try it out on one or two scenes and see if there is a difference with your productivity or the quality of your story. I hope this is a new idea you are willing to try. It works for me, so you knows? It might work for you as well.

Writing 101: First Person Narrative

After reading so many horribly written first person stories recently, I feel that I have to finally address this in a post on the blog.

When you write a story in the first person point of view (POV), you write from that character’s viewpoint. The only things that character should know is what is told to them from another character (which can still be a lie), what they observe firsthand and what they read themself.

Some of the stories I’ve read has the character giving an account of events that happened elsewhere, when that character was sick or injured in bed, for example. Unless the other characters tell the main character what happened to them, the main character shouldn’t be able to relay a play by play account.

Instead, have the other characters tell the main character their story and add some action in the storyteller’s monologue in the form of arm and hand movements that might seem overexaggerated to the POV character.

Unless your character is a mind-reader (and even then there should be restrictions), your character shouldn’t know what the other characters are feeling or thinking. Not unless the other characters outright tell the POV character that information. Otherwise, the reader will be thrown out of the story and ask themselves how it was possible for the main POV character would know what happened or what was said.

This is all a simple thing, though, I understand that sometimes a writer forget the limits of the first person POV. Just to reiterate: In first person POV, the main character should only know what they experience with their senses, what others tell them or what they might read for themselves. These are the limits of first person POV.

Writing 101: Restraint

Restraint. This is what society tries to teach us. Those things we shouldn’t say, but do? The things we do, but shouldn’t? Society frowns upon murder, rape and stealing. Your fictional characters on the other hand? While there might be societal restrictions within your story, your characters can freely go against those rules. That’s one of the beauties of fiction.

Even if your character is a timid, anti-social person, they can still have that kinky side to them (of course, real people could as well, but others would likely not know it). Perhaps they haven’t uttered a swear word in their life? A real person might not swear either, but they more often than not have thought those swear words at some point or another. This is a way to make the characters feel real to your readers. Give them quirks like these where their restraint is lowered or not there at all. I hope this post helps you in your stories. Have fun!

Writing 101: Series Bible

It seems that I will not make my goal of finishing the first draft of my novel. It’s my own fault for procrastinating and writing the story as I go. That’s okay, because sometimes a novel will take as long as a year or two to be completed.

If you find yourself in a rut like I currently am, there is hope, and the entertainment industry makes use for it all the time. This tool is the bible. No, not THE Bible, but a series bible. Many television shows and movies with multiple installments use their series bible to make sure everything in the series is consistant. The last thing you want is to have the rules to something you made up change halfway through your work, unless there is a good reason for it, and that it is something that fits into the story. If a character must use a skill or magic that they wouldn’t normally be able to pull off, make sure to edit the rules to where others in the series can also attain the ability.

Your series bible can also work with stand-alone projects. It can be something as simple as a 5 subject spiral notebook, to a binder with tabs, to a computer program such as Scrivener. I like to use Scrivener. I have the file which is the actual novel being worked on and a separate file as the bible. In it, I have entries on different characters, rules of the world the novel is set in and even little details such as medicinal plants and herbs that I make up.

Go ahead and try to create your own project bible and see how well this works for you. Remember to add in items to you project bible once you write it into your story. Take at least 5-10 more minutes to think of other things associated with your entry that would work for your story and put those rules down as well if you feel they fit into your story. Remember, have fun!

Writing 101: Editing Your Story

What do you do after you finish a story? Edit and rewrite. Sounds really dire, doesn’t it? Luckily, it doesn’t have to be a scary experience if you take your time with it. I do recommend waiting a month aftermwriting your story to begin the editing and rewriting phase of your story.

If you take a month off your story to write another one, you give yourself enough time to come back to the story and read it with fresh eyes. Now that thenhard part of writing the story is over, you might think of new scenes or read scenes that do not really go in the story at all. The flow of the story should read organically, meaning that everything should fit into place flawlessly. The characters should compliment each other in that they work well together. Even rivals or enemies should have a natural flow in actions and dialogue. This is the reason for the editing process. You might see things you missed the first time around.

Here is what I do. I use Scrivener these days for my stories and non-fiction alike. More on this program another day. I’ve found this is much easier than going through a word document trying to find chapters, as each chapter and scene can be separated for easier readability. This helps in keeping track of where you left off. I often start at the very beginning of the chapter and rewrite the whole thing. This way, I can see what I’ve written before and spend a little time editing the sentences one line at a time if they are needed. Trust me, this is better than editing and writing within the same paragraph because it is really easy to forget to add, delete or edit a word. Punctuation can also be troublesome writing within a previously written paragraph.

At the risk of making this post seem rushed, I’ll close here, otherwise I would probably end up repeating myself. I hope you have found this post useful. Remember, have fun!