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.