Writing Method #6: Note Cards and Sticky Notes
In the last entry in my series on writing methods, I discussed Outlining, which flowed well with my preferred Linear method. I've never used note cards as a writing method in themselves. That is entirely because I have obsessive compulsive tendencies and my fear is that if I relied on note cards, I could lose them. In days gone by, note cards were the top writer's tool. Before the advent of computers, note cards were a step above just keeping a simple writer's notebook, because unlike a notebook, they could be shifted and moved to rearrange scenes and there was always room to add new scenes just by shuffling a new card in.
I know of a few authors who have branched out from note cards to sticky notes. In this variation on the note card method, authors write out scenes and plot points on sticky notes and then arrange them on a larger surface, such as a wall, table top, or poster board, in a manner I refer to as story boarding. Since the sticky notes are, well, sticky, they stay in place and don't shift or blow around like a regular note card and they can be repositioned at will.
What should be written on each note card or sticky note? Most writers who favor these methods use a new card for each main scene or plot point, much as someone using the Outline Method ( ) would use a new line for each new point.
1. Start with a note card for each chapter idea;
2. Add in a new note card for each scene within the chapter;
3. Give each character his or her own note card, when introduced for the first time;
4. Flag pivotal plot points or surprises by adding a star or sticker to certain note cards.
Since I'm always thinking of ways to organize things even further, I would suggest that someone interested in using note cards to plan a novel, consider keeping them in a slotted photo album (you know, one of those with the little sleeves, two or three to a page, for the insertion of photographs) where they are easy to see and easy to move around, but not as easy to misplace.
On a plus side, note cards are easy to carry, easy to organize, and easy to discard, if necessary. My issue with this method is the transitional nature of it. I don't like so many moving parts that I can so easily misplace. Technology has been so nice as to find a solution for that, however. There are several types of software on the market that create virtual note card systems for writers. Scrivener is one I've used personally as a software and, while it has a note card feature, I didn't find it as interactive as I would have thought was ideal. Others out there that I have not tried include: Mindola's Supernotecard, Text Block Writer, and Writer's Block. There is a lot I can say about name originality here but I'll let that one go. There is also a lot more I can say about novel writing software pros and cons, but I will leave that for another post in another series.
Do you use note cards or sticky notes? How do they work for you?