INSIDE THE ART, CRAFT AND BUSINESS OF WRITING for Film, TV, Books, Stage, Print or Digital Media (with Particular Attention to Comedy)

Why I Love Index Cards: The Humble Office Supply That Can Leap Tall Problems in a Single Bound

I’ve been working with a client who developed and outlined his screenplay using index cards. (See photo left. One wall of the garage where we were working had easy access – even though it was also see-thru plastic. The cards aren’t color-coded – although they could be!)

Now we’re adapting the idea to a TV series and we’re using the cards again. For the screenplay, each card represented an individual scene or sequence. For the TV series, each card will represent a major story beat. Same concept but on a different scale: Index cards let you step back and see the big picture and easily re-think your thinking.

Your notebook and computer are the trees. This is the forest.

If you use index cards (correctly) for outlines, you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve never used the cards, your outlining process is about to get a lot more fun, faster and more effective.

1. Get some index cards. Standard white 3″x5″ cards are cheaper and less distracting than colored cards, and with 4″x6″ you’re tempted to include too much information.

2. Get or gather a thick and a thin magic marker – or a magic marker and a pen.

3.  Write the headline for one story beat, scene or chunk of material on each card in thick marker.

4.  Write subsidiary details in pen or thin marker on the same card.

5.  Lay the cards out, or pin/tape them up, left to right in sequences or acts.

6. Add, delete and re-arrange cards until you have a good sense of the flow of your story from beginning to end – or at least from beginning to end of an act.

Don’t include too many details. Use headlines and bullet points. Don’t hesitate to re-do a card if it gets too messy—or take it off the board if you decide to delete the idea all together. Replacing cards, or re-arranging them, is way easier, less time-consuming and less emotionally-draining than rewriting. That’s the point: Index cards on an action board let you see your whole project at a glance.

Here’s another thing I love about the cards: you can…

7. Take them off the board and bring them anywhere! Extra bonus: every time you lay them out on a table or put them back up on the board, it give you an opportunity to re-think your sequence and evaluate each card fresh as it comes off the deck.

Time for a rewrite? Create a new set of index cards based on your draft and do it all over again.

– – – – –

Some of this material is excerpted from my book, “How To Be A Writer Who Writes“, the whole of which is available on Amazon.

2 comments on “Why I Love Index Cards: The Humble Office Supply That Can Leap Tall Problems in a Single Bound

  1. Pingback: Why I Love Index Cards as a Writing Tool (Pt. 2): Full-Color Edition | THE OTHER NETWORK WRITER'S ROOM

  2. Pingback: 7 1/2 Different Ways to Outline (and 2 other Ways to Get an Overview Perspective on) Your Book or Script | THE OTHER NETWORK WRITER'S ROOM

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This entry was posted on March 5, 2013 by in Creative Process, Productivity, Story Structure and tagged , , .
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