Thursday, June 2, 2011

Kissing the Frog: Note Cards

Note cards. Almost every book on writing that I’ve looked at says to use note cards when planning your book. I tried it once… it wasn’t pretty. But now I am moving into the land of revision where the laws of the first draft no longer apply. After a little experimenting I think I found a really cool way to use note cards for editing.

Last time I revised a novel I wrote the scenes on sticky notes and put them up on the wall. That actually worked really well, but even the best stick note only stays sticky for so long. It was right about that time that I had wished for note cards and a decent board.

Lesson learned. I am now revising my newest novel and I’m using note cards, but I’m doing it a little differently.

First let me say that I’m… oh, what’s the right word? Cheap? Thrifty would sound nicer, but cheap is more accurate. I HATE spending money on something if I can make it myself for nothing. That’s why my writing desk is made from a couple short bookshelves I got at a yard sale and a piece of counter top found on the side of the road.

So it won’t come as a surprise to anyone when I tell you that I didn’t want to go out and buy a huge cork board to tack all my note cards too. My solution: Cardboard.

Being a taxidermist we get in a lot of big packages, many of them are made of nice double thick cardboard. At the time these boxes came in I didn’t know why I would need a huge slab of double thick card board, but it was just too cool to throw away (I’m not hording, I’m just planning ahead).

So with the cardboard and a bunch of tacks I “borrowed” from my mother, I had myself a handy little board for my note cards. Don’t think my cheapness stopped there. Years ago I got a pack of 4x6 note cards, but I really don’t need that big of a card to write scene descriptions on. So I cut them in half. Now I have twice as many 3X4 cards and they are just the right size.

Now that I have all my supplies together, time to get down to business.

I took the first note card and wrote the name of the POV character for that scene and colored it in (each POV character has their own color). Next line I put where the scene took place and beneath that I wrote a short description of what happens in the scene. Easy as that.

I could write who was in the scene, what their goals are, escalation of conflict, blah, blah, blah, but I really don’t see the point in that. At least for me. I use the cards as quick reminders of what happened in that scene. All that other stuff I deal with in a separate note book.

Over a couple days I went through the book scene by scene and made cards for each. Not only that (and this is the cool part I cam up with) as I wrote each scene card I made notes on a colored sticky note then stuck the note on the back of the card, the bottom edge hanging over so I could see it after I tacked it up on my board. The notes are color coded. A blue sticky note meant that the scene only needed some minor changes, pink, a major part needs rewritten and yellow was for a totally new scene. I also used small purple notes for quick thoughts that I came up with later. Now I can look at the board and see just how much work I need to do to this novel (which I’m happy to say, isn’t nearly as much as I feared).

So now, when I go to work on a scene, I just take the card down and pull off the sticky notes to see what I need to do.

So far it’s been working like a charm.

Here's a picture of my board:

Scene card (The pink in the corner means it in my Heroine's POV, my Hero is blue, Villain green. The pink sticky note means I need to rewrite a large part of the scene.):

Back of the scene card:


  1. I tried note cards once. It didn't work for me, besides a complete lack of space, I have a tendency to lose stuff. I put my notes right in my MS and highlight em to separate them from the other text.

  2. I have been trying to figure out how to use a storyboard for a long time, in a way that made sense to me. But this is perfect! I love the way you made it work. Except,in my case, I'd probably use yWriter note cards and have them print straight on the index cards so I can avoid looking at my handwriting. :)

  3. What concerns me is that your article here, is fraught with spelling and grammar problems. No offence but not sure I'll be taking writing advice from someone with less-than-average English skills. Perhaps you should stick to stuffing dead pets?

  4. Sorry I couldn't help you. I'm not perfect, nor have ever claimed to be.

    You did get me thinking though: