Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Love Affair...With Index Cards

Writers love office supplies, right? We geek out at rows of bright highlighters, colorful pens, and blank paper. One of my favorite supplies costs less than $1.

It's another old school tool that I use with each project--index cards. You know, the kind you buy for $.50 at Wal Mart. James Scott Bell talks about them in Plot & Structure. I've become an index card disciple, and here's why:
  1. They point to what's missing in my plot. Bell suggests that we write the following plot points on index cards: opening scene, doorway #1, doorway #2, climax scene. Spread them out on a table in this manner: opening, then a little bit of space, doorway #1, then lots of empty space, doorway #2, a little space, and then the climax scene. Doing this low tech visual trick showed me where I needed to insert scenes.
  2. They're flexible. Want to move doorway #1 closer to the opening? No problem. Want to switch scenes around in the middle so that you're ratcheting up the tension? No problem. Want to add a scene? No problem. Using index cards makes switching up scenes an easy task.
  3. They store valuable information. I not only add a one line description of the scene, but I'll also add the setting, conflict, emotion, and scene purpose. This reminds me what I need to accomplish with each scene.
  4. They help with pacing. When I'd completed my cards and spread them out, I noticed I had too many scenes before doorway #1. This is only one pacing problem I encountered, and I'm sure there's plenty more, but visualizing each card as a scene reminded me that I need to get to the guts of the story quicker.
  5. They travel well. I don't have to worry about WiFi or battery power with my index cards. I store them in a baggie and carry them with me while I'm in the plotting stage.
Those are my geekiest reasons for why I love index cards. If you use OneNote or Scrivener, you're probably laughing right now. I know, I know, it's so old school!

What's your favorite office supply? Have you ever used index cards? If not, what do you use to help you plot? And if you're a pantser, how in the world do you organize all that information in your head? Inquiring minds want to know!

37 comments:

  1. I'm trying Scrivener for NaNo but you know what, I still laid out the "cards" in the program like I did with the paper ones :) You're right, it's the best way to plot out a story and find the holes.

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  2. I don't use any devices for plotting, since I really don't have a plot. The story is coming to me from this voice that came in Ireland and I have no clue what's coming next. It's really quite frustrating.
    I love any and all office supplies, especially pens.
    Karen

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  3. I've never used index cards, just the standard spiral, seventy-page notebooks.

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  4. I use the plot points method, but I like the sound of the index cards a lot. Will definitely use them as I am in the plotting stage. Thanks for this helpful post, Julie.

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  5. I've never used index cards, but have been thinking about it for my next novel.

    The tips make sense.

    I've always used a notebook.

    Thanks for the walk through on how to...

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  6. Julie, are you having an affair with my index cards??? Haha... I HEART my index cards. Doesn't matter if I attempt to use a program. I still use the cards. They're portable and you can spill coffee on them.

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  7. Julie - I'm so glad to know there are other writers out there who still use "old school" supplies, in addition to the necessary current technology. Index cards are not only a big part of my writing porocess; I use them for my grocery list as well! (Drives my husband crazy! ^_^)

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  8. thanks for the tip -- I really like the idea of making the plot structure more visual.

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  9. I haven't used many index cards in my writing because I tend to lose them. Maybe I should get a box for them? But I can see why you use them. They were my best friend in college.

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  10. If I could explain what goes on in my head someone would probably have me committed. That said, I'm totally jealous and DO geek out at supplies, so I want index cards now!!

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  11. Yeah, totally old school here. I use spiral notebooks for outlining, but before that, I jot notes in my iPhone and email them to myself later. I guess that makes me a mixed bag. Still, using OneNote or scrivener wouldn't work for me. I have to have everything right under my nose as I type in MS Word.

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  12. As with the notebook, I tried index cards. TRIED I tell you. Maybe I'm super impatient, or maybe I need to steer clear of anything that gives me an excuse to keep from actually writing, but I had to give them up. I'm so glad they work for you and all of what you say makes complete sense. One of these days, I may become an organized writer. Maybe... ;)

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  13. You probably won't believe this but I almost wrote MY blog post today about index cards! Really! I've been revising a first draft and just burning through the cards while organizing it and taking notes. BUT I was going to (and still probably will) write mine about why I'm so disappointed in their quality. They are so flimsy --barely thicker than paper -- compared to what they used to be! And (depending on the brand) some of them have such a rough surface. Still, the reason it makes me mad I think is because I love them so much, so I can wholeheartedly agree with your post! I love index cards, too!

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  14. It's a while since I used index cards but now you've reminded me how useful and how tactile they are!

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  15. Well, I love index cards, but I haven't used them the way you are using them. These are great tips. A great share. And once again I am hearing about James Scott Bell. I really must get that book!

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  16. I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I've been meaning to try the index card thing for years...and still haven't. But as I'm at the beginning of a new story, I'll commit to doing it this time round!

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  17. I am not laughing at all. I respect any technique that works (although I do love Scrivener!)

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  18. My entire life I have wanted to love index cards. I love the idea of them, I envy people like you who know how to use them to the best advantage, I want to be one of those organized people who uses index cards. I've bought many of them in hopes of using them, and they pile up in my desk drawers.

    My favorite office supply is PENS!!!

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  19. Yep, I use them. Spiral notebooks and color coded index cards float my boat. I use different colors for the three acts with white ones for the "doorways." Don't get me started on magnets.

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  20. They're great for research too! Why are office supplies, esp. new ones, so enticing for writers? Love them.

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  21. I love Scrivener. I'm using it for my new project. But I also have my index cards and notebooks for my drafting. Then I organize them in Scrivener. Probably takes me twice as long, but it helps me work everything out.

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  22. I didn't always use them but I love index cards now, along with my Micron 005, extra fine point with 'archival ink.' whatever that means.

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  23. Wait! Note-taking?
    ?
    I was a pantser with book one, and used more than usual note taking for book two. As I begin to stoke the fires for my next project I know that I will be using even more extensive notes. What form that will take, however, is anyone's guess. Perhaps flash cards...
    Thanks for the tip.

    -Jimmy

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  24. I've got to confess... I've never used index cards. I'm just the old school, print it out on paper and then make notes all over everything. As for my fave office supply? Why a nice red pen, of course! :D <3

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  25. I've never used index cards, but I might try them when plotting my next story. I just read about using index cards and a board to plot a screenplay or novel. Intriguing.

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  26. I love index cards because I study with them! I can carry them on the plane, to the gym, on the stairmaster. I hadn't thought of using them for my writing... but excellent idea! Thank you!!!

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  27. I used to love index cards. When our budget took a nosedive I just ripped up pieces of scrap paper instead :-)

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  28. I never even used index cards in school...so I guess they didn't catch on!

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  29. Sticky notes. The back of my door is currently covered with them - each one is a summary of a chapter of part two in my novel - they're easy to shift around and see all at once.

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  30. Like Laurisa, I prefer post-its. They're on the wall behind my door (where my toddlers won't see them), and are making up the storyboard for my current novel. I like them because they can stay up on the wall all the time, instead of me having to keep laying them out.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  31. I love James Scott Bell, too. I need to do this with index cards - So simple yet I can see how it would be so effective. Thanks for the reminder, Julie. I like the low tech stuff!

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  32. I JUST started using index cards. After reading Save the Cat I was convinced. So I got a cork board and pretty colored pushpins and I'll be writing all my scenes out and posting them in front as I write this first draft. usually I keep a detailed outline in a spiral notebook... but I'm trying this new method out. I'm sure I'll like it.. and like you say, it makes it easy to move things around. Pacing always seems to be my weak area, so maybe this will be the way to go. I really like lo-tech for notes too. There is something really satisfying about using an actual pen and handwriting for some things. :)

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  33. I love index cards too! I'm a Scrivener user so lately I've been using the digital ones. I like this tip from JSB (not surprisingly - I like all of his tips!)

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  34. I have white index cards and colored index cards, but those aren't my most favorite office supplies.

    One of my most favorite office supplies are post-it notes of every size, color, shape, and design. I came across an awesome sale at Targets and I must have gotten about 25 post-it pads for 10 cents each!

    I also like binder clips. Have them in all kinds of sizes and colors.

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  35. Hey Julie! I love the old-school methods and have bought a pack of brand-spanking-new index cards ready for my new WIP this year.

    I have also used post-it notes for very quick idea placement using a mind map. You can read about that process here: http://dreamingaboutwriting.blogspot.com/2012/01/writing-tools.html

    Melanie


    PS. Thanks for following my old blog (Melanie Pickering writes), but I've now changed the address to: dreamingaboutwriting.blogspot.com

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  36. I love discovering and sharing all the ways that these amazing index cards can be used! They might be old school, but they are very popular!

    You can find trendy index card binders to fit everyone's interest on my website!

    Carla ~ www.artbysunfire.com

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