NaNoWriMo Prep: Plotting Your WIP with Index Cards

Posted by October 27th, 2013

As you may know, Book Country is a proud sponsor of NaNoWriMo 2013!

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Every November, hundreds of thousands of writers from around the world get together to cheer each other on as they write 50,000 words in just 30 days.

This is my first year taking part in NaNoWriMo, and I am very exited.

I spent today doing a little NaNoWriMo prep, inspired by an outlining idea I saw on a Book Country discussion thread called “How do you break out of writer’s block?” (If there is one thing I am terrified of about NaNoWriMo, it is that I would get the dreaded writer’s block at some point in November!)

Member and screenwriter Bret Plate offered up a strategy for outlining scenes ahead of time, so that you won’t get stuck when you want (or need!) to keep writing:

“As a screenwriter for many years, I was trained to plot everything out very carefully on 3X5 cards before I started writing.  It’s a way of making sure you don’t go down a rabbit hole and end up in China when your story is set in Kansas.  For a script, it’s (approximately) [120] cards — 30 cards/scenes for ACT I;  60 cards/scenes for ACT II;  30 for ACT III.”

I shared this idea with Nevena, and she tells me that this is a famous screenwriters’ trick, borrowed from the classic screenwriting guide SAVE THE CAT! by Blake Snyder.

I particularly loved this idea because while it’s common sense that a screenwriter would plan scene-by-scene, it’s hard to remember to do that in fiction. We think in terms of chapters, or the overall events of a story, and what information we need to convey when. But if we outline a list of ~90 scenes, it encourages us to write in scene rather than in summary (i.e. “Show not tell”). And that’s a great place to start, because we’ll be thinking in specifics, using sensory detail, and really be focusing on helping the reader to be there in the action of the story with us.

I’m too shy to show you the index cards I made using Bret’s SAVE THE CAT! method for my own WIP, but I did put together a set of example cards using the book EMMA by Jane Austen (since I’ve taught this book in a Creative Writing Workshop, I know it well enough to be able to parse it scene by scene pretty easily).

Bret’s advice was to start with a basic description of the scene, then fill in notes about anything else you know about it. I organized my cards for EMMA by describing the scene, making a list of some details about the setting or what’s happening, then a list of “objectives”–the things I want to make sure are clear by the end of the scene.

Act 1 Postcard detail

Act 3 postcard detail

I liked Bret’s idea of organizing my cards into three “acts.” To keep track of which scene belongs to each act, I used different colored cards.

Postcards for Emma plotting

Bret goes on in his post to tell us how he actually does this method using a Word template (head over to the post to read how his template is designed), but I wanted to make mine with real cards, in florescent colors. That way, if I find myself struggling with writer’s block in the early morning hours, trying to complete my Nano word count for the day before I head to work, I can just grab for my deck of cards and be jolted back into the zone.

What do you think? Do you have other ideas for outlining your novel? Share them with us!

Starting Friday, November 1st, I will be writing my tail off at any available moment–early mornings, late nights, weekends, and lunch breaks–for NaNoWriMo 2013. Won’t you join me? We can support each other through this marathon writing session. Be sure and let us know that you are a fellow Wrimo! As NaNo gets underway, we are going to be rolling out special offers for Wrimos on the site, and we do not want you to miss out. If you connect with me on Book Country, I can be sure to keep you in the loop.

Are you a Wrimo and not yet a member of Book Country yet? Join our community of writers here!


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5 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo Prep: Plotting Your WIP with Index Cards

  1. Mike

    “…or a script, it’s (approximately) 90 cards — 30 cards/scenes for ACT I; 60 cards/scenes for ACT II; 30 for ACT III.”


  2. Pingback: Pin-It Saturday: Let’s Organize | The Awkward Life of Heather

  3. Pingback: 2015 NaNoWriMo Masterpost Link Up | With A Free Printable! | Raychel Rose

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