How Many Cards - Complications Ensue
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Monday, September 15, 2008


Norlinda comments on a previous post about index cards:
I'm already at 36, and by knowing a rough max index card number, I'll know how much further I have to go before inserting the final climatic scene. I'm going by card numbers to make sure a decent number of scenes have been devoted to a character's development---it's a multi-character plot and this is the only logical way I know how to manage the depth of the story.
What concerns me about your comment is it sounds like you are trying to weave the characters' stories together as you figure them out. In other words you are beating the story out on the fly.

What I do is figure out all the beats of each story, and then weave them together. That way I know if I'm telling a coherent story about each character whose story I'm telling.

I write top-down, the way I learned to write computer programs back in New Haven. I figure out what the A, B and C stories are. Then I break each of those stories down into acts. Then I beat each of those stories out -- separately.

Now I've got three or four columns of index cards for the beats of each story, all laid out on my dining room table.

Then I open up my card table and start stealing cards from each story to make up the beats of the episode. As I go, I move the cards around to see if a different order might be better. That's how I get to the table you see.

Once I've used up all the cards from the stories -- except for any that suddenly no longer seem necessary -- I have a neat little stack of cards, and I can fold up my card table.

Then I sit at my desk and put the cards back into a Word document -- a beat sheet. That quickly becomes a Final Draft document -- a step outline, with scene headings. And that's what I write my script from.

I would never try to skip any of those steps. I'd get confused, and wind up having to disentangle the whole mess -- probably by reducing the whole damn script back to index cards and moving them around again.

Labels:

9 Comments:

What happens if characters and/or story find a "better" craft logic or find a hole in the character/story? Or would that kind of issue generally occur after the note card stage?

By Blogger The_Lex, at 11:40 AM  

Rrrrr?

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 12:30 PM  

Hmmm. . .that was an unclear and badly written comment, huh? Might be a symptom of being someone who generally writes on the fly (which has changed recently).

Unfortunately, I can't think of a clearer way to ask the question. . .so I think my question is probably about a whole other topic. Please ignore.

By Blogger The_Lex, at 12:54 PM  

If you can't ask the question succinctly, feel free to ask the question at length. I will probably be able to find an interesting question in there somewhere, even if it isn't actually the one you're asking...;-)

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 12:57 PM  

How about this:

How set in stone is the content on the cards while writing the script for your process? How flexible are you with changing content and even beats, if while writing the script, you discover something (story or character-wise) that could work better (but it might possibly affect the rest of the script)?

I have the feeling that I may not fully understand since I'm more of a prose (and sometimes academic) writer rather than a TV writer. Still, this sounds like a method that could help with my writing, especially since I've recently become less on the fly for one of my styles of writing. . .and would like to become more efficient with all my writing (after all, it would be nice to get paid for my writing, and it get paid for it more frequently than not).

Thanks!

By Blogger The_Lex, at 2:19 PM  

It's very interesting to see how other people create their stories using index cards. I also use the index card method. I've got an entire wall of my studio covered in cork board, and I tack everything up so it's always in view.

Lately I've been working a lot lower on the wall and using a comfy chair to make spending time with the "wall" a lot easier. :D

By Blogger Kody Chamberlain, at 3:05 PM  

Not set in stone at all! I'm always moving things around, throwing things out, rewriting things. And, as mentioned, if it all sucks, I boil the script back down to cards and start again.

Field Marshal von Moltke said, "No plan survives contact with the enemy."

Which is to say that if you don't HAVE a plan, you'll lose. But if you aren't willing to CHANGE your plan, you'll lose too.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 4:28 PM  

Cool. You've answered my questions perfectly.

By Blogger The_Lex, at 5:04 PM  

You're right, you're absolutely right. I am making it up as I go along. It's a real bad habit. The last time I did this, I ended with 30 pages which got some favourable feedback from readers. And then I got stuck. The end point was clear; I just couldn't find the path to get there. Readers also liked this minor character but I couldn't develop her because I didn't have a complete story for her.
This time, with index cards, it seems to be working ok, though I know it could be better. I'll give your method a try.

By Blogger Norlinda, at 5:11 PM  

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