Friday, May 11, 2007

Index cards are our friends

Writing may occur in the here and now, but editing takes place in the there and then.
--Dennis Palumbo, "Perspective," from Writing from the Inside Out

I mentioned earlier how I outlined Voice of Crow using index cards. (I can't find the blog post, but I talked about it question 3 of my Writer Unboxed interview.)

I didn't use index cards to outline Wicked Game (fka Bad Company, for those keeping score). I wrote a loose synopsis before I started the book, but didn't plan it out scene-by-scene.

This week I've been brainstorming changes to this novel, since I need to cut it by about ten thousand words and retool it to land farther on the fantasy end of the romance/fantasy spectrum. I've come up with some exciting ideas, but they're spread over dozens of pages in my little notebook. I needed a way to organize my thoughts.


Just like with Voice of Crow--except after-the-fact instead of before--I created a card for each scene, with date, setting, characters, and events. On the back I jotted my ideas for changes and cuts. (One advantage of the index cards is that I can slap a rubber band around them and take them anywhere--not so with a 6-pound manuscript).

But the miracle was not in the increased level of organization. The miracle was that in a few of the early-ish scenes, when it came time to list "events," I made a startling discovery:

Nothing happens.

Sure, there's plenty of witty banter and world-building (usually some indispensable fact about vampires), but beyond that, the scenes barely inched the plot forward.

So I'll cut entire scenes, pulling the good bits and inserting them into other scenes (y'know, the ones where stuff actually happens). If I hadn't taken each scene on its own in this analytical way, I never would've noticed how much these sandbags were slowing the momentum of the book.

The more chaff I can eliminate in the beginning, the faster things can develop. Happy readers. Plus, cutting words early on means I have more room to add major complications later. Happy writer.

Not-so-happy characters. But they'll deal, now that they have room to breathe.

A-Z Update: "Gangsta Tripping" by Fatboy Slim

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I got a wicked paper cut from an index card once. Right under the fingernail; I was bedridden for nearly a week. And you say they're our friends? sh'yeah right.

Index cards: They're either with us or with the terrorists.

Posted by: Blogger Rob S. at 5/17/2007 2:05 PM

Rob, sometimes our friends hurt us because they love us.

Posted by: Blogger Jeri at 5/17/2007 6:00 PM

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