Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Graham's Story Blocking (The Index Card Way)

Last night we had our writers' group.  We had two guests, Ben and Graham.  Sir Kirk-A-Lot gave an awesome presentation on Pitch Sessions.  After the "official meeting" I asked Graham about his outline techniques.  He's been kind enough to let me share them here:

1) Do your prewriting--setting, character list (with individual motives--this doesn't have to be very detailed, just a few words) and so forth.

2) Write down what your main character will be doing from beginning to end, since most of the book will be following him/her around.

3) Go through your character list and write down what the other characters will be doing. Work all their storylines together into the overall storyline of the book. Again, this doesn't have to be too detailed. Just a few bullet points on who does what.

4) Get a stack of 3x5 notecards and start writing out every scene you can think of in your head. Keep it simple. "Character A gets in his car, character B is hiding in the back seat with a gun, character C is trying to call character A," etc. This is the part in the process where you're able to get all your pre-imagined scenes out onto notes.

5) Once you've made as many cards as you can think to make, set them out on a table in chronological order. Imagine a transition from each card to the next; if there's not enough information, or if for some other reason a coherent transition isn't possible, make up a new card to "connect the dots", so to speak. That's where you'll add in all the necessary filler scenes between the big "action" scenes. Try to throw in a joke or something interesting in these connector scenes.

6) When all your cards are finished, look over them again and compare them to your original list of character storylines. Fill in the blanks if you've left anything out. Also, if you need to foreshadow anything, make note of that on the various cards.

7) You should have a healthy amount of notes in place now. I had 25 cards for Sidewinder, and intended each one of them to be its own chapter. I ended up expanding it to 37 chapters later (this was the first time I'd used the notecard process for outlining--it worked wonders, but I learned to be a little more detailed later on.) I made 30 cards for Lunaratus, which was about the same length as Sidewinder (35 chapters).

8) Number the cards so you can keep them in order. Then get a large drawing pad and write out your whole massive outline on one sheet of paper--that bad boy is going on your wall above your computer. That way when you're writing, all you need to do is look up, see where you are in your outline, look back down and keep writing. :-) ----Or, if you don't want to write it out on a larger sheet, just stick all your notecards up on the wall (I recommend putty-tack) in order. Same thing.

Thanks Graham for letting me share this.  (You can learn more about Graham here.) On my way home tonight I picked up some index cards.  I'm skipping out on a neighborhood party to use this method!!  Wish me luck.

What story organization methods do you use?

PS Sorry this is so late . . . I had to wait for Graham's permission to repost his idea.  It is just what I've been looking for.  Thanks again!


  1. Hey guys, thanks again for letting me crash your writing group last night. It was great.

    I like the idea of the post-its, although for me, I write from many locations, so I keep a separate, small notebook, for each novel. I have yet to try and plot out a novel from beginning to end before writing. I find my best inspiration comes when I have a general idea of where I want the story to go and how I want it to end. I use the notebook to keep track of characters, possible plot twists, etc. as I write.

  2. Oh, and I forgot to mention that I'd LOVE to get your feedback on my revised, one sentence pitch for Finding Home and The Lackawannna Prophecies-CHOSEN. You can take a look on my blog:

    Thanks again!

  3. I wrote a comment and it got eaten by Chrome. Grrrrr.

    No problem, Ben. It was nice having you. :)

    Great post, DJ/Graham! I'm stilling figuring it out for myself. I think I might be a write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl.

  4. Graham is a smartie, there's no denying that. ;) I'm really crossing my fingers for him. That boy deserves to be published, if even just on sheer determination alone. Although I think his writing is pretty da*n good, too.

  5. Yeah, yeah. Graham is awesome. As if we didn't know that... :)