Thursday 1 March 2012

Using Index Cards II

So I've got the first draft of my novel written and I've written an index card for each scene. What next?

I lay the cards out on my bed (or table, or floor depending on what large flat space I have available to me) in the order that they're written and stare at them intently. I'm looking for...
  • gaps - where characters disappear
  • places where I need extra scenes (to explain, connect, add plot strand, whatever)
  • scenes which aren't doing much and should be combined with others
  • characters who aren't doing much and either need more to do, or get combined with others
  • too many exciting bits close together - too close, and each one will lose impact
  • too many quiet bits close together - too close, and the pace will fall
  • timing problems eg a pregnancy that lasts 2 months or 12 months
  • a sense of forward movement - continual small plot/character developments
  • does the story gel?
  • and anything else that strikes me
The great thing about using index cards is that you can easily see the novel (which is going to be hundreds of pages at this stage) and how it's shaping up. So I add what's needed, take out what isn't. This might involve wholesale cutting of certain sections, or writing whole new sections. Sometimes I might move sections around - the book I'm currently working on I've moved what was Section 3 to Section 1. When I've finished I re-write my scenes as a list (like the one from A Single to Rome I pasted in yesterday's post) and then use that to write the next draft.

And then I repeat the whole process, until I'm satisfied that I've got the right shape. And if that takes many drafts, then so be it. And then, and only then, do I start worrying about the actual words on the page.


Graham said...

Thanks for an insightful couple of posts, Sarah. I'm afraid that I've tried, and failed, when it comes to index cards - I like to have all my notes in one place, on the screen, so end up with various Word documents.

Although I have to say I'm intrigued by mention (in the other comments) of Scrivener's virtual index card system, as it's the second time in two days I've heard it recommended. Worth looking into, methinks.

DT said...

I found post-ots on a wall to be very handy, too. Distance lends perspective!

Sarah Duncan said...

Graham - I think Scrivener sounds great if you're technically minded. One of the pluses about index cards is you have only a teeny space to write down the major points of your scene - it focuses the mind nicely.

Derek - post-it notes have just the same function, but beds are cosier than walls!

Unknown said...

Great series of posts, Sarah, and they are particularly useful for me at the moment. I'm in the middle of revisions (6th draft) but these are 'post-clunk' revisions, and it's a different experience to doing the previous ones. I hadn't heard of the 'clunk' phenomenon before, so I assume it is your own observation.

Sarah Duncan said...

Yup, clunk is all my own invention. Think it describes my brain process, not like dragonflies zipping about but things going clunk clunk clunk.

Marilyn Rodwell said...

This is a brilliant post, Sarah. I took note the first time I heard you say it...a while ago. And cards work for me at the end, if only to remember what I have included and where! Sometimes I can't remember the detail. I've just come to the end of my first draft, so I will now be doing that card trick. But I don't use cards at the start. I use a spider diagram for that. I do have a question though... Do you do a complete rewrite of each draft?

Thanks, Marilyn

Sarah Duncan said...

Marilyn - They're not 100% re-writes, some stuff will stay much the same. I do less re-writing than I used to do - I think I've got better at doing more in one draft.