Three Ways to Integrate Scene Cards Into Your Writing Process
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Do you prefer working with tangible notes as you write?
Admittedly, I’m not a fan of hand-writing my work in the slightest. I complete nearly all of my brainstorming, outlining, drafting, revising, and editing in Scrivener. That said, I recently had the opportunity to try out printed scene cards courtesy of my friend and fellow author Jennifer Bull, and I had a blast playing around with all of their possibilities.
How did I use the scene cards Jenn designed as I worked? Let’s discuss three ways to integrate them into your writing process today!
Why should you make use of scene cards?
Scene cards are physical index cards that typically summarize individual chapter or scenes, though they may also include additional pertinent information such as the scene’s POV character, setting, status, or drafting and revision notes.
Though Jenn no longer sells the scene cards she gifted me in her Etsy shop, you can still create scene cards of your own by grabbing a stack of index cards (or any old scraps of paper) and writing one scene description per card. No fancy stationery necessary. With that established, how can you make use of the scene cards you’ve created?
The beauty of scene cards is that they can prove helpful at any stage in the writing process, making them one of the most versatile tools in your writing arsenal. Have a story idea? Use your cards to brainstorm and outline. Writing the first draft? Refer to your cards often to stay on top of your progress. Working through edits? Add, remove, and rearrange your cards to perfect your story’s plot. Pretty awesome, right? Let’s take a closer look at how you can use your scene cards today!
Utilizing Scene Cards During Pre-Writing…
Tip #1: Capture scene ideas.
As you work to brainstorm the events that will move your characters from point A to point B, make sure to write your ideas down for later reference. Scene cards, of course, make the perfect tool for capturing your ideas.
Tip #2: Map out plot structure.
As you work to iron out your story’s plot before you write, use your scene cards to visualize your story as a whole, identifying gaps, inconsistencies, and pacing issues in your plotting.
TIp #3: Create drafting reminders.
Don’t limit your scene cards to summaries. As additional ideas come your way, flip your scene card over to take notes that you can reference as you draft.
Utilizing Scene Cards During Drafting…
Tip #1: Review scene cards before writing.
First drafts are often a mess regardless of whether you pre-write your story, but that doesn’t negate the power of intention. Just as outlining your story can help ensure a solid plot, referring to individual scene cards before you write can help you visualize the work that needs to be done.
(P.S. Don’t forget to check those notes you left yourself on the back of your cards, as well!)
Tip #2: Use scene cards to Avoid pesky plot bunnies.
Do you often get halfway through a first draft before new story ideas take over? If you’re considering taking your current story in a different direction, try it out by writing up a few scene cards first. Don’t make the mistake of writing 20,000 words into a new plotline before realizing it’s a dead end.
If your ideas are for new stories entirely, write those ideas down on cards of their own, then tuck them away for future reference. You already have a first draft to finish.
Tip #3: Get in the filmmaker mindset.
At the end of a day of filming, directors can view the day’s scene takes, also called “dailies”. Doing so helps them ensure the scenes they shot were on par with their vision, making it easier for them to course correct if necessary the following day.
As a writer, you can use your scene cards to do the same. By comparing your day’s or week’s work to your scene cards, you can establish whether you’ve stayed true to your vision in the nitty-gritty of drafting or whether you need to go back and re-write a scene that went a bit off the rails.
Utilizing Scene Cards During Editing…
Tip #1: Know Your Process.
Every writer’s pre-writing and drafting process is a little different. If working with scene cards during these stages isn’t right for you, that doesn’t mean they can’t be of use during revisions. If you’d like a little visual guidance as you polish your story’s plot, go ahead and create your scene cards now.
You can even get more specific if you’d like, creating sets of cards that follow specific plot or character arcs rather than (or in addition to) your story as a whole.
Tip #2: Nail down your arcs.
Speaking of arcs, don’t be too hasty with your editing shears as you revise. If part of your plot simply isn’t working, try removing or rearranging scene cards from your line-up, adding new cards to the mix as necessary.
As with drafting, trying out new ideas with scene cards rather than with written scenes can be a great way to save a little time and energy.
Tip #3: Take Notes & Mark Your Progress.
Some of the same scene card principles we used during pre-writing and drafting can also apply to your work as you revise and edit. As you read through your work, take down scene-specific revision notes on the back of each card to reference later.
Then, as you work through the thick of revising and editing, use your cards to stay on top of your renewed vision for your work and to track which scenes are complete and which are still a work-in-progress.
These are just some of the ways that I’ve made use of scene cards over the years. Though I don’t often use physical cards myself, I love utilizing Scrivener’s virtual scene cards as I work. No matter your personal preference, writer, I hope you find these scene card tips helpful as you explore and refine your personal writing process.