I know that some of you who will read this might well know this tip, but I thought it might be good to add anyway for those visitors who might be new to the craft.
Truth be told, when I started writing (well over a decade ago, sheesh) I had no idea how to organize my thoughts, scenes, characters or even a story layout. I knew how to write a good college paper that would attain a good grade, but it wasn’t enough. I needed more than a simple thesis with attached argument points to flesh out. I needed to organize a story, first and foremost; and it can be tricky when a complete newb steps into the world of writing for the first time. It was then I chanced upon Christopher Keane’s book HOW TO WRITE A SELLING SCREENPLAY, because my first project was actually a screenplay based off of a paper I wrote for my Roman History class about the Catilinian Conspiracy by Sallust.
Keane pointed out how to use notecards to organize the story by writing a brief description of each scene, one per card. Once you have your cards ready (between 80-90 for a screenplay) you then set about the task of laying them out in a way that best fits the story you want to tell as the writer. It’s then ideal to pin up the cards on a wall or (even better) cork board so that you can see the whole story from beginning to end in one glance. I found this technique tremendously helpful for so many applications as I eventually carried it over to using it for writing shorts and even novel length stories.
I still use this technique from time to time when I have a tricky chapter that I need to set straight or even a story arc that needs to be tightened up, but I’ve also learned not to lean too hard on this type of organization as it can dry out a story really quickly too. Be sure to leave room for your characters to take charge and make their own decisions. And if that means that you have to remove some cards and replace them with new ones to make the story work, then all the better for it! But don’t be afraid of getting organized with note cards; at the very least it will help you get your story rolling.
SED EGO DIGREDIENDUM