Monday, June 20, 2011

Two Naughty Words: Note Cards

I have friends who plot out every chapter and know everything that's going to happen in their story before they ever get started. How do they do that? I've read books and sat in workshops where methods are outlined. One year I actually made it a goal to plot a book chapter by chapter on note cards.

You know what I did? I sat for days and days, LOOKING at those blank cards -- well, not completely blank, they had chapter numbers -- and wondering what the heck to write on them. Hero and heroine meet, that's pretty easy. At the end everything is rosy --that's a given. But in between? Holy cow! As hard as I tried I couldn't get words on those cards. The cards actually CRIPPLED me.

I do a synopsis first. That's how I sell the book. But my synopsis is about the characters and about their motivations, but not about the details of the story, except for main plot points. Once I know in my head who the people are, what drives them and what they want, THEY tell me what they're going to do and say next. I don't know the middle of the book. Often I don't know the end. I just know the characters and I keep them together to see what happens next.

My method makes the plotters crazy. Their story wouldn't go anywhere if they didn't have it planned. Are they right? Am I? Yes. Whatever works for the writer is the right way.

Now, some would think that after hearing me say how I write that I just fly by the seat of my pants. Not so. I know my story people's backstories. I know the incidents that shaped them into the people they are. This way I can challenge them in the most significant ways with the things that happen to them. I know what they want. I know what's holding them back. I know their long range and short range goals, their character flaws, their character traits, their fears, their internal motivation, their personality and ten or more descriptors/adjectives about the person. I usually know the black moment.

I know a couple of scenes that I want to touch on - and I know how the story should FEEL. Sometimes I know the theme and I always need a working title.

Just don't talk note cards. My eye will start twitching.


  1. Love it Cheryl! I'm totally riding in the same boat with you! If I had to line out the story on {shudder} note cards, I'd get stuck, too.

    A general idea helps. Knowing my characters is another part of the puzzle. They get deep in my head and get me thinking. I "interview" them to know their background and find that's the best foundation for my style of writing.

    Others do their best writing by charting it "by the book." I like the sense of mystery that I'm learning what happens WITH my characters, as they tell it to me.

  2. I write just like you. Thanks for sharing this info. I do not care for note cards either.

    Walk in harmony,