How to Plot with Flashcards

Photo credit: konrad.lawson on Flickr
Once upon a time I read Your First Novel 
by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb. I felt a little silly buying it because at the time I’d already written four novels so it wasn't really going to help me write my first, but hey. Why not?

It was full of useful information for both pre-publishing and after publishing (although it was written before the explosion of e-books, so I suppose it’s a little out of date in that sense, but it’s still useful if you'd like to try to get an agent). The most useful technique I got from it however, has nothing to do with agents.

It’s a plotting technique. With flashcards.

So I don't remember the exact method the book uses (it’s been a while since I've read it), but I've found that the flashcard method is very useful, which is why I'm sharing it with you.

SO. How to begin? 

Step 1: Build MOUNT DOOM (with flashcards, of course).

Step 2: Get your handy-dandy writing pencil. Or pen. Or crayon or marker or Sharpie or lipstick tube, whatever suits your fancy, really.

Step 3: Plot! Plot like the wind! It doesn’t matter where you begin, just take a flashcard and write down a scene idea. It could be something short like, “Katie kicks a clown in the shin at her birthday party.” or something much more complex like, “Alfredo discovers his albino gerbil is really an alien that’s going to take over the world with his army of adorable fuzzy creatures and tries to tell his mother but all she does is give him a handful of prayer beads.” Ok, so that wasn’t that complex, but you get the idea.

Step 4: Keep writing flashcards. The book recommends you have at least twenty before you try to start writing your novel because chances are you don’t have a fully fleshed-out story if you can’t even come up with twenty scenes. I agree. Write as many flashcards as you can. The more the merrier.

Step 5: SPREAD ‘EM (the flashcards, I mean). If you have a hugenormous desk or table, spread your flashcards out there. Otherwise spread them out on the floor, it’s just as effective. They don’t even necessarily have to be in order, the idea is to just look and see what you have so far.

Step 6: Line them up! Ok, I know I just said order doesn’t matter, but that was Step 5. This is Step 6 and now order matters (don’t question my logic). Once you have them organized, take a look at your time line. Ask yourself what you could add. Are there any gaping holes in your plot? Do you have two or three slow scenes in a row? Is there enough leading up to the climax? For some reason, looking at it visually like this helps me see flaws in my plot faster than just writing up an outline.

Step 7: KEEP. WRITING. FLASHCARDS. I know you can add more in there. Try to shove in at least five more. You can always take them away again later.

Step 8: Numbers! Once you’re satisfied with the order of your scenes, go through and write a number at the bottom based on their order (the first card is 1, the second 2… so on and so forth).

Step 9: Throw them in the air and do the IT’S RAINING FLASHCARDS dance! Ok, not really. But shuffle them. And if you want to shuffle them by throwing them in the air and rolling around in flashcards, that’s totally cool, too.

Step 10: Re-organize! Take a look at your random order. Obviously some scenes will need to be in the beginning and some in the end, but can you keep any of the new arrangements? What would happen if you kept mixing your scenes up? Try experimenting as you put them back in order—flip some scenes around and play with them until you’re happy with your new order.

Step 11: Now go write.

So that’s it guys, the flashcard method unveiled. Give it a try! Maybe you’ll like it as much as I do. Or maybe you’ll have fun dancing in a papery rain. Either way it’s worth a shot.

I’ve shared my method, let’s hear yours! What techniques do you use to plot?

3 comments:

SHarricharan said...

That was wonderful! I'm going to try that for nanowrimo. Thanks a bunch!

Ava Jae said...

You're very welcome! Best of luck to you with NaNo!

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