I went onto the web site of a prominent office supply chain the other day and ordered a thousand 4 x 6″ index cards. I love my 4 x 6 cards. They are, perhaps, the most used tool in my writing arsenal, and I utilize one for each scene in my books. I usually start out with 20 or 30 of them, with such details as “Battle Day 1” or “Lisen in bath” or “the reunion” and build the stack from there.
That’s how the story unfolds for me—little vignettes in time with rarely any details at all. Just a moment carved out. And as I near that scene, what has led up to it begins to take on meaning, and I jot down pieces of action and dialogue and plot points that I intend to get into the composition of the scene. In addition, I note the day (numbered sequentially from the beginning of the book) and the date as well as the number of the scene. (I don’t break my books into chapters until I’m on my final draft.) I also finalize whose point of view will best tell this bit of the story. For instance, under “Lisen in bath” I wrote a brief exchange of dialogue between Lisen and her companion in the bath. What they say isn’t relevant to the plot, but it is relevant to Lisen’s state of mind at that moment. On the other hand, “the reunion” is blank save for the POV and the day/date.
I play with these cards as their numbers increase. By the time I was through the first draft of the third book in my Lisen of Solsta trilogy, Blooded, I had 94 scenes and, hence, 94 cards. That’s basically an inch of cards, and I still pull them out every once in a while and fondle them. Yeah, I know, I’m weird, but I’m a writer, okay? In my defense, I often refer to them if I’m trying to find the part where such-and-such happens. How many members were there in the privy council? And where did they all sit around the table?
I do have a scene outline for each draft—as scenes do sometimes appear in subsequent drafts, disappear completely or move around—but that outline doesn’t hold the precious notes that remind me what my intent was for that scene. And where people were sitting around the table in the privy council, of course.
So, there you have it. How an inch of 4 x 6 cards became a novel. And I’m at it again. I have 22 completed scenes and 22 cards. About 20 cards with scenes awaiting writing lined up, but those will likely double to triple in volume before I’m done. After which I will have enough cards to write ten more books. Goodie!