margaretmoore.com

Home

What's
New
MM's
Blog
MM's
Newsletter
MM's
Books
Monthly
Draw
Site
Map
Upcoming
Books
More
about MM
Aspiring
Authors
Meet
MM
Excerpts

WHAT I'VE LEARNED ALONG THE WAY:

THE JOY OF FILE CARDS AND A BOX TO PUT THEM IN

By
Margaret Moore

There are plenty of how-to books about writing that include a section about outlining your plot and how to do it -- charts, notes, graphs, etc. In the past, my idea of an outline was called "a synopsis." The only time I did anything more detailed was when I was stuck at some point in the story. Sometimes making notes would get the story moving again. Other times, I would resort to making a long, chapter-by-chapter chart with lots of colored post-its because when I was finished that, at least it looked like I'd accomplished something. And sometimes that did help.

More recently, though, I've become a big fan of file cards, which also come in an assortment of colors. I write file cards based on the synopsis, stick them in a little box, and add notes on other file cards as ideas for expanding those scenes come to me. I paperclip all the cards for a scene together. This method really comes in handy when I have moments of inspiration at odd times in the day, like when I'm stirring something on the stove. I can jot down my musings and not lose the idea, then I can insert it where it belongs in the story. If there's too much information for a file card, I use paper and clip that, folded, to a file card with a "title" and/or brief description of what's on the paper.

I have a file card that lists names from the area of my setting to have handy for secondary characters. At the moment, I'm looking at one with names like "Myghal" and "Anaguistl" from Cornwall. I have other file cards with character names and brief physical descriptions, as well as any other pertinent information. I have another one on which I keep track of chapter page numbers.

When I come to the end of a day's writing, I can either put the card at the back of the box to indicate I'm done, or leave it beside the key board. If I'm continuing a scene or want to note what my characters are thinking or feeling, or anything that should come in the next scene, I'll make notes on a fresh file card and put that beside the keyboard, too.

I have more file cards with miscellaneous plot possibilities that have come to me since I wrote the synopsis and I'm not quite sure where or if they should go in the story. These don't go into the box. They sit on my desk, in little piles. I'm less likely to forget them that way.

I have file cards with synonyms for words like "heat" and "desire," so when I've revising my love scenes, I don't have to go to the thesaurus again and again.

The backs of used file cards come in handy for to-do lists, or phone messages.

I keep a couple of other things besides file cards in the file box, too. One is a diskette, because I save my work every day. I've heard too many horror stories of writers losing whole chapters, or more, and I would have a fit if that happened. At the moment, I have a Staples coupon in there, too.

There is one problem with the file cards, though. If the cats happen to scatter them, it can take me awhile to get them back in the right order. Even so, they're an effective way for me to keep my story and character details handy and in order.

And did I mention they come in different colors?


Back to Column Index

Copyright © 2006 by Margaret Wilkins. This article may not be copied without the author's permission.