The Index Card Method

Posted August 25, 2012 by Briana in Outlining / 0 Comments


A little while ago, I introduced you to the Signpost Outline Method for plotting stories. This technique worked for me for a little while, but I’ve never been a fan of outlines. They can feel too rigid sometimes; too strict; too limiting, if you will. While using the Signpost method, you might also find yourself feeling trapped. You might be looking for another, less confining method, and if that’s the case, then I have a potential solution. This next method is something that I discovered around the same time as the Signpost method, but I personally feel that it is much more helpful.

First of all, get a stack of index cards. It doesn’t matter how many – just make sure you have enough to realistically plan a whole novel or short story. If you’d like a number count, I tend to shoot for twenty to twenty-five cards for a novel and four to five cards for a short story. Each index card will represent a scene in your work. On each index card, write a single action. By the time you’re finished, you should have a string of plotted actions that look something like this:

Atalanta leaves Anderson for Julian.
Atalanta stays the week with Julian.
Julian tells Atalanta that he yearns for control and power.
Julian refers Alaric to Atalanta.
Alaric meets with Atalanta for a consultation.

Alternately, you could put the actions down on paper. However, I prefer index cards because a) they’re informal, b) they’re portable, and c) you can move them around to change the sequence of events. Once I have all of my actions written down, I like to spread the cards out on the floor and rearrange them several times until I find the ideal sequence. Sometimes, when you do this, you’ll find arrangements that surprised you – sequences of events you hadn’t thought about before. This method also helps you get past writer’s block by reimagining the story arc.

The Index Card Method might now work for everyone, but I wanted to suggest it in case you were looking to try something new. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this technique! Have you used the Index Card Method before? Which method of outlining do you prefer? Leave your comments below, and I’d be happy to respond to them!

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