Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Nanowrimo Prep: Brainstorm your book with index cards


by Alexandra Sokoloff

Two weeks to #Nanowrimo. Are you panicking because you have only the vaguest clue what you're writing about?

Here's a fun and lighting-fast brainstorming method that I absolutely guarantee will get you closer to understanding the story you want to write.

It's the number one structuring tool of most screenwriters I know. I have no idea how I would write without it.

                                         Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

Get yourself a pack of index cards. You can also use Post-Its, and the truly OCD among us use colored Post-Its to identify various subplots by color, but I find having to make those kinds of decisions just fritzes my brain. I like cards because they’re more durable and I can spread them out on the floor for me to crawl around and for the cats to walk over; it somehow feels less like work that way. Everyone has their own method - experiment and find what works best for you.

A movie has about 40 to 60 scenes (a drama more like 40, an action movie more like 60),  every scene goes on one card. Now, if you’re structuring a novel this way, you may be doubling or tripling the scene count, but for me, the chapter count remains exactly the same: forty to sixty chapters to a book.

So count yourself out 40-60 index cards. That's your book! You can actually hold it in your hand. Pretty cool, right?

All you do at first is write down all the scenes you know about your story, one scene per card (just one or two lines describing each scene - it can be as simple as - "Hero and heroine meet"  or - "Meet the antagonist".)

You don’t have to put them in order yet - that's the next post!

I love the cards because they are such an overview. You can stick a bunch of vaguely related scenes together in a clump, rearrange one or two, and suddenly see a perfect progression of an entire sequence. You can throw away cards that aren’t working, or make several cards with the same scene and try them in different parts of your story board (which we'll talk about next).

You will find it is often shockingly fast and simple to structure a whole story this way.


-- Get a pack of index cards or Post Its and write down all the scenes you know about your story.


All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in the workbooks.:

                                           STEALING HOLLYWOOD

This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.


STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 


Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy - available in e formats for just $2.99.

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)


Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here:

Next up: The Story Grid



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