3 Ways to Use Scene Cards to Help You Write Your Novel

Have you ever used scene cards to help you write your novel? Well, today I'm going to teach you how!

So, scene cards. What are they, why are they helpful, and how can you use them to your best advantage? Let's get started with a definition:

Scene cards are physical cards, usually small (think: index size), that are used to summarize individual chapters or scenes from your manuscript. One card is used per scene or chapter.

On a scene card, you might include a scene summary, the purpose of the scene, and other pertinent details. Once you have your scene cards filled out, you can use them for any number of reasons, many of which we'll talk about today.  

Pretty cool, right? Well, scene cards just got even cooler. Check this out:

The amazing Jen from The Paper Scientist recently offered to send me a free sample of her new Writer's Block scene cards, and I couldn't resist. I've had a few companies reach out to ask about having me review or promote their products, but I've always said no. 

Why was this time different? Two reasons:

  1. Jen was super sweet and understanding. She informed me right away that I didn't have to review or share the cards if I didn't enjoy using them. 
  2. These babies not only looked beautiful, but I genuinely believed they were something you guys were going to love (and still do!). 

But before I talk about why I love these cards so much and how I'm using them in my own work, let's break down all of the ways you can use scene cards as you write.


Three Ways to Use Scene Cards

Want to know the beauty of scene cards? You can use them at any stage in the writing process, making them one of the most versatile writing tools in your arsenal.

Have a story idea? Use scene cards to prepare to write! Drafting your novel? Stay focused by utilizing your cards. Trying to work through edits? Rearrange your cards to perfect your plot. 

These are just a few broad examples. In fact, scene cards can come in handy dozens of times over as you pre-write, draft, and edit your manuscript. Let's break down some of the most popular uses below!


As you pre-write your novel, here are a few ways you can use scene cards to make the process nearly seamless:

  1. Write down scene ideas. As ideas for scenes come your way, make note of them by creating new scene cards. You can then use those cards to discover gaps in your storytelling and iron out the perfect plot before beginning to write. 
  2. Map out your plot structure. Or, if you tend to be a more intentional writer, you can pick out the plot structure you'd like to use in your novel, and begin creating scene cards that follow along with that structure. 
  3. Create a plot guide. Once you have your scene cards created, you can organize and utilize these cards as the plot element of your reference guide (the finalized notes you refer back to while drafting your novel). Hurray!


Once you've created your scene cards during the pre-writing process, you can use them to help make drafting a breeze. Here are a few productivity tips to get you started:


  1. Review scene cards before writing. First drafts tend to be less sloppy when you write them with intention, right?

    As you prepare to write a scene, look back on your correlating scene card and remind yourself of what you're trying to achieve in this scene. What needs to happen? Is there action, and if so, how will it affect your characters?

    Don't forget to look ahead a few scene cards. Are there any impending events you can easily foreshadowing in this scene? What tensions can you begin to introduce to make future conflict more realistic?

  2. Use scene cards to remain focused. I think we've all been there, midway through our first drafts when we suddenly have a crazy new idea about what can happen to our characters.

    We then write 20,000 words into this new plot line before realizing that it's a complete dead end that just doesn't work for our manuscripts. Womp, womp.

    But what if you could avoid that wasted time? With scene cards, you can!

    If new plot line ideas begin to weigh you down, take the time to whip up a few scene cards for them. You can then compare these scene cards to figure out the best route of action for your manuscript. Ta-da!

  3. Get in the filmmaker's mindset. Sometimes first drafts are incredibly hard to write because they just seem off. When this happens, it's usually a result of a messy plot.

    But sometimes we ignore the warning signs and trudge through the first drafts anyway, only to discover when we've finished that the whole thing is a hot mess.

    Scene cards allow you to avoid this mayhem by getting you into the mindset of a filmmaker. Wait, what? Hear me out.

    At the end of a day of filming, filmmakers get to view the takes, which are called "dailies". Viewing these dailies allows them to see if there are any major mistakes in the scenes they just shot. From there, they can decide whether they ned to re-film anything in order to stay true to the film's vision.

    Guess what? You can do the same with your writing!

    After each day's or week's writing session, take a step back and review your work. Does the plot seem off? Did a character take an unexpected and unnecessary move? Are certain scenes just not meshing?

    If you find an easy fix, save it for revisions. But if you happen to notice a huge, glaring mistake, use your scene cards to explore new ways to set things right before you waste more precious writing time.


Scene cards have served you well thus far, but they're not done yet. Here are a few ways you can use scene cards as you revise your manuscript:

  1. Create your cards! Haven't used scene cards during pre-writing or drafting? No worries, friend. You can still use them now.

    Begin by reading through your manuscript and creating a scene card for each chapter or scene. You can then use these cards to assess your plot arcs, character arcs, and development.

  2. Nail down your arcs. Speaking of assessing, you can use your scene cards to take a good hard look at your manuscript in order to find areas that need a little help.

    Ask yourself: Where are my story's flaws? Its weak points? Where can I make my story stronger? Don't forget to look for pacing issues or plot holes that could drag your story down and leave readers feeling confused or disappointed.

    After you've used your scene cards to assess your manuscript, utilize them again by rearranging, cutting, and adding scenes to create the perfect plot.

    And if you're using The Paper Scientist's cards, you can also use the action and reaction questions provided on the back of the cards to give power and purpose to each of your scenes. Hurray!

Curious to learn how I use scene cards as I work on my own manuscript?

Jen's offer actually came at the perfect time. I was just preparing to complete my first read-through of the first draft of Dreamworld–my young adult urban fantasy novel–when her lovely sample of cards came in the mail.

I immediately tore into them, reveled in their beauty, and dove in!

For the past week, I've been reading two or three chapters of Dreamworld each night and creating a scene card for each chapter. I write down the setting and mood, the length, and a quick summary of the events in that chapter, as well as pacing and purpose notes.

When I finish creating my cards, I plan to lay them all out and review the plot, looking for weak areas where my story can be improved.

I'll then take notes on the changes I'd like to make, create new scene cards for added scenes, and begin editing with these cards as the secret weapon in my writerly toolbox.

Want a better look at the cards Jen sent me? Here's a breakdown:

These cards are regular index size (A6), printed on thick, high quality paper. I do recommend using a thin marker–like a Sharpie pen–when using these cards as my regular pens seem to quiver at sighting the cards' awesomeness.

The front of the card is jam-packed with note prompts, including areas for the chapter and scene number; the time, day, and place; the POV character; important characters and mood; pacing and length; subplots; scene markers; plotting notes; and of course, a few lines for summarizing what takes place in the scene.

The back of the card is split in two, allowing you to choose whether the scene is an action or reaction scene. Once you've made the distinction, you can answer the three questions provided to nail down the purpose of your scene and strengthen its power.

So much value and insight in one little card. Super amazing, right?

Jen's scene cards come in packs of 40 ($9.58), 80 ($18.44), or 120 ($26.55). You can also message Jen for a custom order if you want to purchase in bulk. And because Jen is so awesome, she's offering She's Novel readers an exclusive discount:

  • Save 10% on orders over £5 ($7.17) or more using the discount code SHESNOVELDISCOUNT10.
  • OR, save 15% on orders over £10 ($14.34) or more using the discount code SHENOVELDISCOUNT15 (this code expires on 11/30/2016).

(Have any questions? You can leave a comment below or contact Jen directly here.)


Let's Chat!

Do you use scene cards when pre-writing, drafting, or editing your manuscripts? I'd love to hear how! Share your tips and tricks in the comments below. 

Happy writing, friend!