Using Scene Cards in Revision

I’m taking a look at my NaNoWriMo 2011 novel Pendant of Nefertiti and seeing if there is anything I can salvage into a marketable product.  Instead, I am finding hoards of poorly developed ideas and missing scenes.  When preparing to write this novel my pre-planning consisted of naming my main character.  I had only a vague idea about what I was going to do with her.   While writing my first MS, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, I learned that I don’t tend to stick with my original ideas anyway and any attempt at detailed outlining is a waste of time.

Now both stories are complete they need further developing.  yWriter, the software I use to organize my novel-writing, does have the idea of scene cards built into the program, but I find it awkward to try to visualize the progress of a story when I have to flip between different windows on my screen.

This is when it’s time to break out the index cards.  Each card represents one scene and answers the questions who, where, what, and why.  Who is in the scene?  Where does it take place? What is happening? Why is it important to the story?

When all the cards are finished, and my kids aren’t around, I will lay them out on my big kitchen table and separate out different story lines and identify different concepts and ideas.  Then it should be easier to see awkward gaps in the story and create a new scene card to fill them in.  It will also be an immense help to sort out the time line.  Using the cards I can play around key event sequences and reorder them until each event flows smoothly to the next.

But wait, there’s more!  Scene cards are also a great way to track small details.  Say there is a locket that has huge significance in the climax of the story.  That locket should be introduced earlier in the story and mentioned a few times before the end.  If it hasn’t, notes can be added to existing scenes where it would fit or a new scene can be created.

In Stonebearer’s Betrayal I use two characters in the first half of the book and then never mention them again. They are a huge loose end that needs to be addressed.  With all the scenes laid out in front of me I can find a way to weave them in to the last part of the book as well by adding them to existing scenes and creating a few new ones.

When the cards are finished, NUMBER THEM.  I can’t imagine anything worse than spending hours finding the perfect order only to drop the stack and have to do it again.  Using the complete set of scene cards, it’s a matter of going through each card reordering sections, writing new scenes, and correcting already existing ones.

Now where are my index cards? It’s time to get started!


About Jodi

Jodi L. Milner is a writer, mandala enthusiast, and educator. Her epic fantasy novel, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, was published in November 2018 and rereleased in Jan 2020. She has been published in several anthologies. When not writing, she can be found folding children and feeding the laundry, occasionally in that order.
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18 Responses to Using Scene Cards in Revision

  1. A.M. Kuska says:

    I recently learned how to do something very similar, using poster board instead of index cards. What a relief to get all those plot threads straightened out! Now if only I could make myself stop blogging and start writing…

    • tsuchigari says:

      I think we all struggle with that one! I spend more time on my blog than on my MS most weeks – shame on me. I would love to hear more about how it works on a poster board.

  2. Roberta says:

    I LOVE using scene cards (the real, paper kind) for revision. I also use Ywriter, and it is impossible to flip back and forth. The index cards allow you to fiddle with placement of the scenes, add, delete etc. They really let you see the “big picture”.

    • tsuchigari says:

      As much as I try to keep most everything digital there are a few things that a screen can’t replace. Perhaps one day when I can afford a big touch screen where I can throw a few dozen digital cards out there. Even then it wouldn’t be the same. I think this will become a part of my personal novel writing process for all my future projects.

  3. Good stuff here, Jodi (no, I haven’t forgotten about you, your novel or your blog). Your writeup on this procedure is top-notch.

    I like what Stephen King does (or at least says he does) when working with foreshadowing. He writes without it it. Then, in revision, looks for items he wants to do the slow reveal on, and adds the hints later.

    I think your card system would help greatly in that.

    • tsuchigari says:

      Yay! If it wasn’t for your regular blog posts I was going to start worrying about you. Thanks for the the compliment, it means a lot when another writer appreciates my work. I agree completely with how King handles foreshadowing, it’s a brilliant way of adding depth and intrigue to a story without being forced to get it right the first round. I can’t take credit for the card system, I think the idea has been around in different incarnations for a while. I just chose to use it at a different stage than most.

  4. Another vote for index cards. I used them when writing A TIME FOR SHADOWS to make sure that I had the historical events in synch with what was going on in my characters’ life. They’re convenient, they’re tactile, and, above all, they’re a blessing for those of us who don’t want to boot up the computer every time we need to check something.

    • tsuchigari says:

      Amen for not being leashed to the computer when inspiration strikes. I’ve even found neat mini binders that will hold them in order so it’s a breeze to flip through when ideas need to be added or checked.

  5. oldancestor says:

    I wish screewriters thought of using your method once in a while…

    Hollywood: Oh, no. Frodo and Sam are about to be consumed by lava. They have no more strength after getting rid of that pesky ring. All hope is lost!

    But look! Here come The Eagles to rescue them. Yay!!! The Eagles arrived just in time.

    Viewer: Um, wait a minute… what eagles?

    Hollywood: Those giant ones!

    Viewer: Those giant ones that were not mentioned once in the previous 9 hours of this movie series or explained now that they’re here?

    Hollywood: Er, yes. Those eagles.

    Viewer: The ones that could have carried the ring and dropped it into the volcano within five minutes of the beginning of the first movie?

    Hollywood: Uh. Yes. Those.

    • tsuchigari says:

      You are so right! Having read the books I knew where the eagles kind of fit in story wise but the movies did nothing to weave them in earlier. It trivialized the whole plight of Frodo and Sam. Popular media had plenty of fun with it after the release.

  6. Heather says:

    That’s a good idea. I’ve been trying to come up with a way to get the events in my story to line up properly and this sounds perfect!

  7. Michael Knudsen says:

    Great idea. I’ve tried every sort of electronic outlining, but nothing beats paper for laying it all out and looking at it visually.

    • tsuchigari says:

      As much as we try to change it, it seems that the art of writing started out on paper and will insist to stay on paper. I don’t think there will ever be a perfect digital novel writing platform, one that fits the needs and personalities of all the different writers.

    • oldancestor says:

      Yay. Paper.

      Paper lovers need to mass our forces before it’s too late.

  8. Scene cards are a great way to track events in a novel. Thanks for the good suggestion. Numbering them is practical and smart.

    • tsuchigari says:

      Nancy I’m curious – what do you use to track all the details in your writing? I imagine with mysteries it is a bit more complicated than your standard literary fiction.

  9. Pingback: Starting Something New, Use Index Cards « Of Iridescent Ink and Inklings

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