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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Daily Planners

Hello all, I’m finally back! I will be posting new content on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as I’ll be at work those days and will need a small task for that day.
For this post, I will be talking about daily planners. I got these ideas from the lady who runs the atworkwithnikki Youtube channel. Throughout the video, she explained how she uses her two planners (yes, two! But I have three!) and the reasoning behind why she does things. She also shows each section of both planners so the viewer will get the basic idea.
Why do I have three planners? One is for everyday, another is for my side business and the other is for my writing. I’ve used only one planner before, and it took forever finding anything that I needed to look for. With each planner separate, I’ll know which planner an item is in if I need to reference it again, and I can find it quickly. With a multiple-use planner, I easily overlook important things on account of my A.D.D.
For my three, I have a business planner, a novel planner and a planner for those annoying everyday errands that need to be done. Every Sunday, I have each planner opened to the monthly calendar and plan out my week to make sure I do not have too many heavy errands/tasks to do each day.
With my planners opened at once, I can see how each type of errand will play out against the others. This is to keep from having too many things being done on one day. One example: if I have to mow the front yard (I do the front and back yards separately, due to them being so large), I know that I’ll probably be too tired to do much else at the end of that task. So, I’ll schedule something small on the same day from another planner in order to accomplish something else that needs to be completed.
Stickers are used for the monthly calendars within each planner. The daily planner has a cheap set of small neon stickers that I found in the office supply section. The business planner has jeweled acrylic stickers, and the novel planner has a set of awesome neon acrylic 80s-style stickers. The last two types of stickers were each found in the scrapbooking section. The business and novel planners also use jeweled clear acrylic stickers to represent “workshop” days where I either write or create more stock for my side business. 
Having the stickers on the monthly calendars will allow me to see at a glance how much time I spend on each category and how I should try to balance them out. I’m a visual person, so the stickers help where words wouldn’t. The stickers will also help as I comprise my monthly statistics at the end of the month.
I use one or two words for each day of the monthly calendar and use the daily calendar to detail what needs to be done. It may seem excessive, but my planners will be staying home, so this will not affect me in a negative way, as I will not be forgetting my planners at other locations.
I hope this post will give at least some of you some ideas, if you decide to use a monthly planner to get your writing scheduled more efficiently, such as research days, submitting to the Kindle store, ect.

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: Organizing Your Scenes

This post is going to paraphrase an idea mentioned in the book worlds of Wonder by David Gerrold, which was published in 2001. This idea is using index cards as a way of outlining your novel or story. Grab a pack of index cards and write a one line synopsis about the scenes that you think of which could be used in your story. Write down one scene per card, whenever you think of them.

They do not have to be in order, because that will be a task for later. Simply think of as many scenes for the main plot as you can. After you finish this, take another stack of index cards to plot out a secondary storyline that will also be featured in your novel. This is usually another plotline that runs parallel to the main story, or a completely separate plotline. The second plotline often merges with the first in some way. Have more story to tell? Add in a third or even a fourth plotline. Don’t worry, after you run out of ideas, you can edit the scenes if you feel there are too many of them. One thing I’d like to recommend is to have different colored index cards to keep the plotlines from getting mixed up (for now).

Once you are finished, read through each card and begin to put them into your desired order flat on a hard surface, that way, you’ll have a view of them all at once. Going from top to bottom is the easiest way, since we will be doing the same thing to any other plotlines you came up with. Each plotline will be separate for now, that way, you can make a choice that is logical to you in how you want the story to flow.

Once you are finished, you can arrange the plotline cards to where any other plotlines will converge on the main plotline. Would a scene from a secondary plot work within a certain timeframe of the main story? Add it to the main plot. Would a scene from a fourth plotline work in the main plot near the beginning of the story? Add the card in. Once you finish, you might begin to see the story take shape easier in your mind. The cards are simply a tool to organize the scenes in your mind so that you can get them down on paper or computer screen.

One thing to note as you’re organizing the information is that you might see similar scenes or two or more scenes that could be combined into one. If this is the case, use paper clips or a stapler to keep the cards linked together for later. Once you’re satisfied with how the story is shaping up, you can store the cards in an index card box or even on a corkboard for further use.

If you don’t think the cards would work, I have read where people do this on either Microsoft Excel and Scrivener, however I’m not really familiar enough on how these techniques work within the programs to really comment on it. If you have experience, feel free to share in the comments below. Have fun!

UPDATE January 31, 2015: I’m working on this system right now and I’m quite pleased with it. I found that it is a waste of index cards using one card for each sentence. Instead, I have cut the cards in half and wrote a scene on each half. I also bought a large pack of 300 index cards, which included green, orange, pink and yellow cards for only 75 cents at Wal-Mart. I got three packs, so that ended up being $2.25 for 900 cards. Can’t really beat that! If each of them were cut inhalf, that’s 2,700 cards! Can you imagine how many novels and stories that could be?

I also bought a pack of highlighters which included blue, green, orange and yellow. All the same colors of the index cards. I couldn’t find the blue index cards, so I simply outlined a white card with the blue highlighter to differentiate between the main plot line and the other. One a whole card, wrote down “Main Plot”, “Secondary Plot”, ect until I got to the “Sixth Plot”. On another index card, I assigned each of the different plots to my story to a card color and used the highlighters to mark off which story went with index card color. These will be kept at the front of the index card box for easy reference.

One more thing I did was take a small stack of white index cards. Cut them in the middle to create two halves, and cut each of the halves in half to create four small cards. In the middle of these, I wrote “Chapter 1”, “Chapter 2”, ect. until I had 40 chapter cards. Now, as I arrange the scene cards around, I can assign them to chapters and use a small rubber band to keep the cards together. This should help with knowing what comes next and how to set the next chapters and scenes up.

Worldbuilding 101: Mapping Layouts

In this post, we will be talking about an element of worldbuilding called “Mapping”. This will be about mapping out the layout of rooms and buildings that your main character will see throughout their journey in your story.

This is a really simple thing to do and all you will need is graphing paper. You can purchase graphing paper, download it into Microsoft Office programs and print it out, or draw it out yourself with blank paper and a ruler. Some of the graphing paper you can purchase have lines on the back like notebook paper, that way you can make notes when needed.

Using the graph paper, you can determine the measurement of the rooms and how the layout of the furniture will be situated. Using this mapping exercise, you can think of how you want the flow of the rooms to be. This is important to keep the locations of the items your character uses consistant. I have read many reviews of books where the author seemed to have forgotten important details and moved things around.

If your character lived next door to a bakery in one chapter, you do not want to have them living above the bakery in a other (unless they had moved within the story and it was mentioned). Having layout maps can help you look up the information you need quickly. I put mine into sheet protectors and inside a binder behind a tab for whichever series I am working on at the moment. Having one binder with the maps from all of your novels and stories, even when they are located in different worlds, helps keep you from going through multiple binders to find what you are looking for. Of course, that decision is up to you, but you may find that having a “Maps” binder is beneficial.

Once you get the hang with creating room layouts, you can move onto bigger maps such as villages/towns/cities, countries, worlds and even galaxies! I hope you can use the information we have contributed in this post. As with other writing subjects, mapping can easily be an overlooked aspect which can easily affect your story. Remember, one of the goals to writing fiction is to have fun!

Tech 101: A Novel Idea App

This post is the start of our Tech 101 series, which will be explaining the different technology out there for writers. Today we will begin with the Apple Store app, “A Novel Idea”, which I think is an easily overlooked app if you didn’t know anything about it.

First off, at the time of this posting, the app was 2.9 MB (Megabytes for those not familiar with the acronym), and the full version is only $2.99, which includes the ability to write out scenes within the app.

This app is extremely intuitive for most anybody. At the bottom you have the different tabs. The first tab is the “Novels” tab, where you set up the name of your novel, setting, theme, tone, POV (Point of View), premise and plot. Below that, you can group your novels (if they are parts of a series, I believe. I haven’t tried this part yet), attach scenes and attach ideas. The scenes and ideas are both in their own tabs at the bottom of the app.

The next tab is the “Scenes” tab, which will allow you to write your scenes. Under this tab, each scene has the ability to write in the title, novel, act, time, location, plot type, description and tension. Below these are sections to attach characters and ideas to the scene. At the top right-hand corner, you’ll see a little pencil shape and a trash bin. The pencil shape when pressed will turn the page over so that you can write your scenes.

The “Character” tab might be the most detailed tab of them all, not surprisingly. The options include name, role, age, species, race, gender, height, build, hair color, eye color, skin tone, character description, external conflict, external motivation, internal conflict, internal motivation, education, skills/talents, fears/phobias, traits, current residence and previous residence. Below these options are the option to add relations to other characters, attach novels, attach scenes and attach ideas.

The “Location” tab allows you to name the location, give it a description and attach it to novels, attach it to scenes and attach it to ideas.

For the “Ideas” tab, you can give it a name, description and attach it to any of the other categories.

As you can see, this is one powerful app, especially for on-the-go transit where you would be sitting with nothing to do for awhile. This feature is also great for the months of NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo, where you have to meet a deadline of so many words of your novel within those months. If you guys decide to give this app a try, I hope you find it as amazing as I do!

Organizing Your Story Information

Everybody has a different way to organize their files whether they keep physical copies in spiral notebooks or if they use computer files.

I’m still trying to find the perfect organizing method for myself. My mind seems to like having multiple copies of the same thing in multiple places (although a flash drive for external backup is a great idea!) that causes me to look for the documents I need. I have physical copies of my character sheets stowed away in a portable plastic file box. Each of the novels I am working on has a hanging file. Within those hanging files I have categories such as “Characters”, “Setting” and any sort of research that I might need. Each category has a paper folder with brads in the middle. Within those brads are my documents within sheet protectors. I like having something physical to hold while I write, that way I am not switching between screens as I try to find an important detail.

The I-Pad has a few of good apps for those who want more portability than a heavy file box. I found that Corkulous is an excellent program to organize your notes. I suggest purchasing the full app, as the free version only allows you to create one board. I like to have one board for each of my series. This app is pretty much a virtual corkboard with sticky notes, index cards and even another corkboard (which is great for each individual book in a series. Each corkboard has all the previous features and more available.). If space is at a premium in your home, this is going to be the answer.

Another app I really enjoy is the app called “A Novel Idea”. This app allows you to create novels on your I-Pad. It allows for organization with your files, including pictures. You can write individual scenes and assign them to a novel. This is also great for on the go.

“Sorted” is an app that allows you to make lists. If you are a list-taker, this app is for you. Sure, the notepad app can do the same thing. Sorted makes the lists look nicer, though.

“Scrivener” is a program that I think many story writers of all forms have heard of. This program allows you to write individual scenes so that it is easy to go back and edit it when necessary. You do not have to deal with one large document to scroll through when using this program. There are too many features to list here for this post. This and the other programs will each get their own posts at a later date with our Tech 101 series.

Many people like to use their own Wiki pages to organize their information. If they are using an online version, I believe that others can edit the pages, which would cause the original poster to go back and fix everything. The best program for this is a program called “Zimwiki”, which is an offline wiki program that can also be stored on a flash drive.

We will offer more program ideas as we come across them. For now, I hope this small list is helpful for everyone!