Monday, April 23, 2012

I May Never Wear Pants Again...

Wait! What I meant was, I may never write by the seat of my pants again. I think I'm turning into a Plotter...

It all started a couple months ago, when I was working on the synopsis for Strength. I needed to outline each chapter's plot points for a quick reference and decided to use index cards. That's when my obsessive, overly-organized side took over.

 *Shudder*

Needless to say, the whole project snowballed. I ended up including characters and places, too--and you know what? Those obnoxiously bright cards convinced me to formally outline my next MS! (On paper, that is, since it's all subject to change.) But I digress.

Troy asked about my index card method back in February, when I posted a photo of my cards on Twitter. My reply was crammed into 140 characters and didn't give much information, so I decided to expand it into a post. I know it's not an original concept, but doing this helped me. Maybe it will help someone else. :)
 

Quick Reference Index Cards:

  1. Buy colorful index cards. C'mon, they're stimulating. You can even color-code, if you want.

  2. If you're planning on writing these out by hand, skip to step #5.

  3. Bring up your word processor of choice. I use MS Word. (I can hear you hissing, Peggy!)

  4. Create a new document and change the page/card size to 3'' x 5'' (or whatever size index cards you bought).

  5. Make the first one a title card.

  6. The second will be a legend. Whatever you plan on abbreviating should be listed here. Remember, there's limited space. (Yes, the second card is legend... wait for it...)

  7. If you're like me, you'll want to use the fronts and backs of the remaining cards.
    •  On the front of each card, list the chapter, act (if applicable), significant plot points, and any designated hooks.
    • On the back of each card, list the chapter, act (if applicable), characters, places, and any additional notes.
That's it! If you're unsure how to format these bad boys, you can download two .docx examples here. I hope they help you as much as they've helped me! :)

Do any of you keep quick reference cards/sheets? If not, how do you keep track of things?

Have a great week, guys!

P.S. I can only imagine the search terms I'm going to see in my analytics from that anti-pants title...
P.P.S. My blogiversary is in May. I think I'll wait and do an artsy giveaway then. :)
P.P.P.S. ...dary!

66 comments:

Suzi said...

I've been a pantster so far, but I'm trying a WIP coaching thing and am learning lots. I'll probably end up inbetween from now own. Index cards don't sound like fun, but I've got a big Excel spreadsheet I'm working on. I've also got a notebook that I jot down ideas and I'm trying to keep that more organized too. One page for character traits. One page for words characters use...

Iain said...

I have a word doc that breaks down the events in each chapter. It helps a lot when I need to know where I'm going.
I also have an A4 pad that is specifically for editing my WIP. It also has a break down the chapters and helps me keep track of my changes. This is probably going to become redundant after I've seen what you do with Track Change and Comments. :o)

Mama J said...

I've found I'm planning more and more with each book. I don't use index cards (but might as they're so pretty and bright). I've just being using plain old paper.

Gina C said...

gaaaah, i love anything to do with index cards. planning isn't for everyone, but i definitely find it helps set things in motion and keep me writing. it also lets me write out of order, which is key great for those days i'm stuck on a scene :)

JeffO said...

Pantser! Pantser! Have I ever told you how much I hate that word? Of course I have. Anyway, it looks like a pretty grooving system, and not just because of the colorful cards. I haven't graduated to that, though I find myself doing some outlining when I feel like I need to know where I'm going. I'm about at that stage in my current WiP.

Cortney Pearson said...

Yay for index cards. I like to use them while plotting too, it helps me make sure my scenes all end in conflict and amp up the tension, to make sure each one is necessary and moves the story along.

Cassie Mae said...

You had me at colorful cards. They look so fun!

Natasha Hanova said...

Love your creative organization method! I'm a planner too.

Mrs. Silverstein said...

Those do look fun...I've been eyeing Scrivener for a similar reason (the corkboard feature looks potentially awesome.) I'm coming to the conclusion that I may actually be a plotter, because my pantsing tends to end in a lot of nothing or else in too many things all on top of each other.

Jennifer said...

I'm all for super organization! I live by Excel grids! I do wonder about all the software around that's supposed to help you with plotting when I'm all about scribing by hand and keeping it in front of you.

YelenaC said...

Carrie, what a great idea.
I've been a pantster for the most part so far, but I'm also starting to feel the need to plot and outline more and more, as well as create character sheets.

Donna K. Weaver said...

I did a project with index cards for NaNo a couple of years ago. I used the sticky note 3x5 cards though, so I could put them on my huge white board and move them around as necessary. I'm kinda visual.

Melissa said...

I love your colorful cards, but I'm too lazy for that. :P I start with general plot notes in the Word doc. (a duplicate) and delete them a sentence or two at a time as I write the scenes. I also decide chapter breaks as I go. When it's all done, I type up a little document with the chapter numbers, day/date span of each, and general notes about what happens. (Mostly so I can go find something more easily on a subsequent edit). I DO start out with a general timeline and character pics/notes before I begin, but I do it all in documents on my computer. Lazy. I know... Great post! :)

Juliana Haygert said...

I'm a mix of panster and plotter. I can't go in blind, otherwise I'll fret that I won't get anywhere, but I can't have a detailed outline either, otherwise I'll feel like I already wrote this and the surprises and good feelings that come with it, won't be there and that puts me down lol
Nice system you have there ;) I may give it a try ...

Sarah McCabe said...

I find that plotting and pantsing aren't two mutually exclusive options. It's a spectrum with "obsessive planning and outlining" on one end and "never gave it a thought before I sat down to write" at the other. I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I can't write unless I have a pretty good idea of my starting and ending points at least and some of the stops I want to make a long the way. But everything is subject to change while I'm writing and often does.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't use cards but I do write all the details down in a notebook.

Sophia Chang said...

Nooooo! You've left us pantsers behind!

I admit I outline (ish)...

I also don't like wearing pants, but whatever.

twentysomethingfictionwriter said...

Whoa, girl you're a mad woman with all those cards! lol tehe I just make a standard 2 page synopsis first then break it down into a Microsoft excel scene list. I follow that until it's done. Your process seems fun though. It's always good to try something different and I hope with your new process for your next MS it works for you!

Carrie Butler said...

Thanks! :)

Oh man. When I was writing Strength, I had outline-style notes everywhere. Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, Post-it notes, napkins, torn off pieces of bills, written on my arm, etc. Nothing was in order, and I was constantly pulling at my hair. LOL I'm just glad to be trying a new system.

Hey, your method worked out pretty well, if you ask me! :)

Leslie Rose said...

I am also a reformed pantser. I just bought a huge magnetic board for my index cards. I like your method. *stealing*

Carrie Butler said...

I tend to stay inbetween, too. Old habits die hard. ;) Oo, I never thought about keeping track of words characters use. Great idea!

Nancy Thompson said...

Who are you & what have you done to my Carrie?!!! Haha! Welcome the schemer's club, my dear. (And I thought my OCD was bad.) *snicker*

Carrie Butler said...

Like a chapter map! :D

Oh, I love using Track Changes. It's so much easier. :)

Carrie Butler said...

Me too. I think it's because our brains can only hold so much detail. :) Nothing wrong with plain ol' paper!

Carrie Butler said...

I'm the same way, Gina. Sometimes I need to write out of order! :D

Carrie Butler said...

I specifically avoided using that word for you, Jeff. (Although, it is a label.) :P

Thanks! You should give it a try sometime. It really does help. :)

Carrie Butler said...

Great points, Cortney! I'm glad they work for you, too. :)

Carrie Butler said...

They make my desk bright and cheery. :D

Carrie Butler said...

Thanks, Natasha! :)

Carrie Butler said...

I eyed Scrivener, too. Then I remembered I'm poor and stopped eyeing it. ;) If you do get it, you'll have to let me know how it works out for you. :)

Carrie Butler said...

Oh my goodness. I love Excel. I keep track of so many things in spreadsheets. Maybe you can do a mix of both. :D

Carrie Butler said...

Thanks, Yelena! If you need character sheet templates, I did a post on them here. :)

Carrie Butler said...

That sounds like heaven, Donna. I would love to have an area like that. :D

Carrie Butler said...

Thanks, Juliana! :) I think I'm a mix, too. I try to be vague with my plot points, so I can still work through the feelings/surprises of each chapter.

Oo, you'll have to let me know if you do. :D

Carrie Butler said...

That is a very good point, Sarah. I think I fall somewhere in the middle, too. I'm just glad to have my thoughts a bit more organized than they were. I was tired of hearing them rattle around my brain. *Grins*

Carrie Butler said...

And someday that notebook will sell for thousands of dollars. :D

Carrie Butler said...

I think that's probably what my effort qualifies as, too. It's still on the -ish side. :)

Hah! Pants are overrated.

Carrie Butler said...

It's true. You should see the idiotic grin on my face when I look at them. They're just so flippin' bright and colorful! LOL

Hey, whatever works. :) Thank you!

Carrie Butler said...

Steal away! I hope they work out for you. :)

Carrie Butler said...

Hah! Why thank you, Nancy. ;)

...Hey, it's not that bad! *Grins*

bailey m kelsey said...

I LOVE index cards for planning, but I've never organized my scene cards in the way you have shown -- maybe I'll have to try it because I'm pretty good about quick character cards (for those little details that somehow always come up but never seem majorly important) and setting cards, but I always feel like my plot cards become overwhelmed. This was the perfect reminder I need to keep it organized (the legend idea is brilliant!) and keep it semi-simple. I am a planner, so my index cards are my "quick and dirty" version, usually, of a fuller outline that exists elsewhere. Index cards are so easy to carry!
Oh, and I am totally color coding. & thank you for making templates, I think that's stellar, too!

Melissa Sugar said...

I have fallen in love with your cards, really I have. Just check all over the web, twitter, facebook, google plus-I am talking them up everywhere. I am a former pantster turned plotter thanks to Martha Alderson & Larry Brooks (which reminds me of something about my get fired up blogfest, but I will email you about that). I have been using cards to plot my scenes, but what we have here is the difference between someone who is incredibly organized and structured (you) and someone who is a cluttered mess (me).

Seriously Carrie, these are awesome. Thanks for sharing. I have already downloaded the templates you shared.

The Golden Eagle said...

I've thought about using index cards for writing, but I usually organize by typing outlines into OneNote or Word. And then there's the smattering of papers with random bits of inspiration written on them that I have in a box.


The Golden Eagle
The Eagle's Aerial Perspective

Carrie Butler said...

Oh, you should. It's so much easier to keep track of things this way. :)

Thank you! Maybe we should do a joint NA post on planning/organizing someday. :D

Carrie Butler said...

Wow. Thank you so much, Melissa! I really appreciate that. :)

You're very welcome. I hope they work out for you! :)

Carrie Butler said...

Hey, whatever works, right? Thanks for stopping by, Eagle! :)

cleemckenzie said...

You're very good at writing "hooks," Carrie! I had to read this post more after reading the first line. I'm not sure I have a system for keeping my ideas organized. I do have notebooks: 1) technical data/business 2) books that inspire me with my comments about them, and 3) another one for my writing ideas and phrases that captivate me.

Mina Burrows said...

Your organization skills are inspiring. I use a software program that I stumbled upon last year. It helps me a bit with plotting, mostly with characters and breaking my scenes out (writing them better etc...) I like your system too. I'll have to see if I can adapt some of what your doing in the program Thx.

Melodie Wright said...

o.O
I am in awe.
That is all.

Mark Murata said...

For my current WIP, I have my Really Short Outline (half a page), my Short Outline (one page), my Long Outline (maybe half a page or one page for each chapter), and my Emotional Outline, which I'm still experimenting with.

Leigh Covington said...

Okay Carrie, I am totally bookmarking this. I've got my first draft done (as a panster) and I really need to go through and plot things out a little before I dive into revisions. I know, I'm doing it all backward, but I have the colored cards and everything! So glad you shared :)

Lynda R Young said...

I use post it notes, a whiteboard, and a notebook to keep track of everything :)

Joylene said...

When I first started I used index cards. Different colours too. I knew we were related. I listed these items in this order:

Goal (of POV):
Conflict:
Disaster:

One colour card per POV. I have 3 major POVs in Dead Witness, with 2 minor.

I expanded for book #3, but now I'm being lazy on book #6 and I'm just writing.

Carrie Butler said...

Hah! Thank you, Lee. If only I could make my query as enticing as my post titles. *Grins*

I love how you keep everything separate. Sounds pretty organized to me! :)

Carrie Butler said...

Oo, what program do you use? Thanks! I hope it helps. :)

Carrie Butler said...

Hah! I love that expression. Thanks, Melodie!

Carrie Butler said...

Wow, Mark. You're really on it! :)

Carrie Butler said...

No shame there, Leigh. I do things backward all the time. :) Woo! Go use those colorful cards! :D

Carrie Butler said...

Nice! I'd love to get a big whiteboard sometime. That sounds so helpful. :)

Carrie Butler said...

...That's it. I'm adding to my card stack! :D Thanks for sharing, Joylene!

Morgan said...

Uh... You make me SO jealous. I SOOooooo want to be a plotter. And I'm trying to be, LOL. But it's my natural instinct to just... write. I'll get there. Watch me! ;)

Carrie Butler said...

We need to get you some colorful cards, Morgan! They lured me to the dark... er, bright side. ;)

David P. King said...

*Darth Vader breathing*

"Welcome to the plot side of the prose." :)

Carrie Butler said...

Hah! I so heard that in his voice! :)

Lisa Regan said...

I need to get organized! This is actually a great idea. It sure would help me keep my notes in order. I'm a disaster right now! LOL.

Carrie Butler said...

Thanks, Lisa! :) Hmm, maybe an ultimatum will help...

If you don't get organized, we're all coming to Philly for an intervention! *Grins*