I got carded

I knew going in, the hardest part of writing a novel would be keeping it straight in my head. News articles, poems, short stories are all manageable because you can hold the entire thing in mind at once. The beginning, middle and end are clearly laid out and the story arc is easy to visualize– setup, buildup, payoff. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

Not so the novel.

I have a storyboard, post-it notes, 2 Save the Cat Beat Sheets, 2 hero’s journeys, more character sketches than I know what to do with, stacks of 3×5 cards for characters and conflict strategies and immutable laws of story physics and mixed drink recipes… and none of it worked to organize my story into an intelligible whole— until now.

Last week’s Is Life LIke This? assignment was to have a couple of six packs. And I got carded.

I wrote up 6 scenes that absolutely have to be in the novel, jotting down 6 key elements of each: characters involved, mood, tone, conflict, etc. (See last week’s post A Couple of Six Packs.) Because it was such a jumbled mental mess, I wrote them on index cards. And that was the key.

I started arranging those index cards on the table, and all of a sudden I saw the whole story at once. Opening, first and second plot points, midpoint, climax, finale. Plus I made cards for 3 bonus scenes!

I printed out everything I’ve written so far that seems to belong, which actually totaled over two dozen scenes, each one in a different color to keep them separate. Now I’m ready to arrange them, probably on the floor, starting with the main six, then filling in the rest where they might go.

Dufresne is anti-outline, and even reiterated “we’re not outlining here” in this chapter. BUT, taking the time to create just that little mini-outline set of index cards, has given my novel a backbone. Suddenly the grab-bag of drunken randomness I’ve been writing is starting to look like a body.

indexcardskirtIs not outlining what you call being a pantser? If so, I need to change into a skirt because my thighs are seriously beginning to chafe. Anyway, now that my story’s got legs, why not show them off?

Do they make skirts out of index cards?


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7 thoughts on “I got carded”

  1. Hah! Nice index card skirt. I’d have to shave my legs to make it work though. Even then, well, not a thought you want to keep in your head very long.

    I don’t believe a novel can be written very well (or easily) without some modicum of planning. If someone wants to call it outlining, so be it. Outlining means different things to different people. I’m still trying to find my own sweet spot between too much and too little.

    Glad to hear about your breakthrough. They feel amazing!


    1. Ha ha, you in a skirt! Skirts are like outlines: they’re not for everyone.
      Your recommendation on the LOCK system was really helpful, too- I got the book and will be posting after I get a chance to look into it more. Thanks for your help!


      1. Glad you found the idea useful! I’ve had the book for awhile and got some goodness out of it on the first read through, but I found it more valuable when I was in trouble with my story and used it to pinpoint where I went wrong.


  2. Do you have a picture of this note card riddled table? I have to admit there is a binder with my ideas as I keep writing. I plan on using my setting for multiple stories, so now and then I write down my major ideas, hole punch it, and throw it in the binder for reference later. A lot of it I won’t even use for the story I’m on, it’s just some day I might, and then it at least has consistency. I’ve just never done the note card thing, but I hear a lot of people do.


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