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Remember back in the day when you got that kick-ass Lego pirate ship with thousands of little pieces in a snowy X-Mas? And how much fun it was to build it just like the picture on the cover? Building the whole thing up from scratch always comparing your work with the one on box.

Awesome, so based on the current poll I'll discuss index cards, character development and why not a little bit more about structure.

Your outline, which hopefully you broke into smaller chunks, say fifteen or sixteen of them, is the picture on the Lego box. And your index cards are the actual Legos.

So now it's time to build your story just like you planned... before you start remodeling with a few touch ups here and there, let's face, who can resist? But rewriting deserves its own topic ;)

As much planning you have beforehand, there's no better feeling than letting your creativity guide you where the story is asking to go, but knowing your path always help when exploring uncharted territory.

Okay, I've got my outline and my character bio sheets, now I need to mash them together in the form of a compelling story. I do that by using Index Cards.

They are cheap, practical and you can put them up on a board. Man, that board is going to save your sanity. And if you are pitching your story to someone you have your whole story up there so everyone can look at and follow you through it.

I believe every screenwriting book I've ever read and every teach I had told us to use index cards. I'll write this article with the help of Terry Rossio and his awesome column #11 The Wind-Up & the Pitch

Here's what Terry shares with us: "You start with a standard 4' x 5' cork bulletin board, and a bunch of 3" x 5" index cards. (Many writers use index cards anyway to work out their plot, a technique I highly recommend. You can 'see' the entire movie at a glance, and can experiment with various changes and explore the impact they have on the overall structure.) You write one major action on each index card."

So there you have it, index cards are very helpful so use and abuse them. As always, I fished some useful stuff from a dear teacher, some other stuff I read somewhere and came up with my own set of rules or guidelines for my own Index Cards and how to put them up on the board.

First things first, take three long strips of masking tape and make four equal rows. Row #1 is your Act One; row #2 is the first half of Act Two up to the midpoint; Row #3 is from the midpoint until your Break Into Act Three; and row #4 is Act Three. Pretty fancy stuff, huh? All thanks to Blake Snyder and his "Save the Cat!" book. By the way, did you buy this one yet?

Onwards to the cards then, which we will put them up there and you'll get to see exactly what happens when in your story.

Like Terry, I also have one major action on each index card, no more. Each card a major action.

Looking over at the Lost Kids board the cards read:






In addition to major actions I also like to have the location up there. When you are writing a story which shifts from one world to another, this is really helpful to sort out events. So let's add that up:



Great, now remember that Blake Snyder Beat Sheet we covered on Writing 102? Take all your answers and give each one their own index card and start putting them up on the board.

You're now looking at the main plot of your story, you get to visualize every plot point, every twist and turn, it is all very accessible and within reach.

Next step is actually a lot of fun. You know all those great ideas you have for your characters, their development through their arcs, the sub-plots, etc? You get to Color-Code each one of them into the index cards already up on the board and on new index cards which will go up to fill in the blanks between each major beat.

Here's Blake Snyder's words: "How each character's story unfolds and crosses with others needs to be seen to be successfully worked out. [...] This is one instance where you will not know how you lived before the board. And seeing these beats up there makes you realize what a potential nightmare it would be to try to figure this all out while writing. Screenplays are structure. Precisely made Swiss clocks of emotion."

Being able to really see how your stories cross each and how each character affects the others around him in what appears to be random events is really God-like.

You know that one second longer it took you to get out of bed and how that second prevented you from trying that yellow light which would end up killing someone crossing the street and that person was actually destined to be President and end world hunger? Yeah, it's that powerful :D

Putting up your board might look like a lot of work and time but trust me, it's worth it. Imagine having written about sixty pages only to realize you need to change something back on page five, but making that necessary change will mess up all your sixty pages.... oh boy, time to start from scratch.

Moving cars around are far easier than whole chunks of text. USE INDEX CARDS AND A BOARD

Okay, so back to our index card we're going to add more info there:



Colt is deeply focused on historical documents and asks Evelet about her Pendant (this should be in Blue)

There's a love/hate aspect to Colt and Evelet's relationhip (this would be in Red)

So up there you can see not only the "A" story (Colt & Evelet fleeing) but also a hint of "B" Story (the Pendant) and there's also a "C" story developing which is Colt and Evelet's relationship. In one scene we're tackling three different plots and this way it is very easy to see everything and get your bearings.

You'll see later on that the "A" story and the "B" story ultimately cross into a single one, becoming the dominant plot throughout the whole thing. But that's my structure. A lot of comic books wear out the "A" story, resolve everything there and then jump onto the "B" story, which becomes the new main plot. This is great for serialized stories that go on for a long period of time, say a one year series.

The last two pieces of information I always put in the cards come in at the bottom: the emotional changes within the action/scene and the Conflict.

Remember I said it's always important to have conflict? You should have it in EVERY PIECE OF ACTION AND SCENE IN YOUR STORY. Conflict is what drives human curiosity. I read today how Joss Whedon is trying his best to find a good balance between the action scenes and all the conflicts arising within the Avengers, so many different attitudes, points of view and beliefs, it's just fun to have them arguing with each other.

The emotional changes are represented by +/- signs while the conflict is represented by > <

Each scene/action should have a beginning, middle and end as well. Think of it as a mini-story. And it also must have something meaningful happening that causes the emotional tone to change drastically either from + to - or from - to +.

Conflict is two characters wanting the same thing and opposing each other, whether it is physically, verbally, emotionally etc. There needs to be conflict, always, ALWAYS!

For example:



Colt is deeply focused on historical documents and asks Evelet about her Pendant (this should be in Blue)

There's a love/hate aspect to Colt and Evelet's relationhip (this would be in Red)

+/- Evelet starts out hopeful Colt will help, ends up furious he is rude and interested on his Pendant

> < Colt wants the Pendant to himself, Evelet won't give it up, it's too special to her

Okay, so that's how I have my cards. Obviously, you can put up anything you feel like it will help you tell your story, but by filling out the blanks on the board step by steps works for me.

- I divide my board in four rows, each of them representing a part of the Three Act structure.

- I start by putting up fifteen cards with my answers to the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet.

- Fill in the Blanks between those fifteen major beats with complete scenes/major actions.

- Figure out my sub-plots and character relationships through my cards, always making sure to drive every story forward If my "B" plot doesn't evolve in Index Card #26, I'll make sure to find a way to do it so by Index Card #27 or #28. This step helps me to make sure everything is moving in sync.

- I find all my emotional changes and conflicts within each major action/scene

Couple of VERY IMPORTANT things to keep in mind:

- Have Conflict in every major action/scene

- Limit one conflict per Card, more than that and you'll lose half your audience, keep things simple.

- EVERY character Arcs. Every single one of them. If a character plays a role in your story, he/she will arc in some way, even if it's but the smallest change, everybody arcs.

Phew! That is it. When you see your story up there on board and you actually sit down to write, it all becomes a fun exercise of filling the few blanks remaining and any changes that arise in your path you'll know exactly how it will affect your entire story because it is right there in front of you, and adjusting to that change won't be so hard. It is all a matter of switching index cards around and playing with them ;)

In fact I encourage people to let the characters and your story to go where they need to, don't be chained to the board. The advantage of having the board is that it shows how your choices as a writer affects your story, but embrace them, have fun with your cards and new ideas that show up.

Recommended Reading: Read Terry Rossio's column about how he uses the board and index cards, I started off from his column and then steered towards Blake Snyder's usage of cards but there's tons more useful information in there. As always if you don't reach the column straight away either hit refresh or use copy-paste.
As always, thanks for reading and if you've got any questions I'll be happy to answer them to the best of my knowledge.



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Add a Comment:
Kizyoi Featured By Owner Feb 21, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Kind of hard to follow but I'm sure I'll pick it up as I go along.  My story right now is playing over in my head and I'm thinking that maybe I should just rewrite the whole thing.  :\
Oh well, I'll figure it out!  Thank you!  :heart:
AJthe90skid Featured By Owner May 5, 2012  Professional General Artist
For something that's supposed to be "keeping it simple", this is the most complicated way I've ever seen to making a story. But maybe I'm just not that mature enough as a writer to see the benefits to it yet, considering I have tons of stories that I've yet to finish, and even more I haven't properly STARTED.
FelipeCagno Featured By Owner May 6, 2012  Professional
Well, the outline and index cards process might seem like complicated but it's a very simple way of looking and checking your structure from the outside, that's what I mean with keeping it simple, not keeping the story simple but your plot points.

I hope this helps!
AJthe90skid Featured By Owner May 7, 2012  Professional General Artist
Oh it really does help! Thanks!
AJthe90skid Featured By Owner May 5, 2012  Professional General Artist
Nevertheless, this series of tutorials are some of the best I've seen on DA! Thank you putting them here!
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