What The Notecards Are For

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably saw a picture I posted of a bunch of notecards on a table. You've probably seen similar pictures to this a few times by now, but a friend at work reminded me that I've never really talked about what they're for. I just post pictures and assume everyone gets it. Well, let me explain.

The notecards started after I read Blake Snyder's "Save The Cat." It seemed like the best avenue into writing screenplays was to read books about how to write screenplays. I know now (because everyone talks about it) that books like that aren't generally well-loved in the writing community, but the notecards have stuck.

What Blake said to do, and what I would have done if I had a table long enough, was use 40 notecards separated into 4 rows, so obviously 10 in each row. The first row would be act one, the middle two rows act two, and the last row act three. Despite claims of hackery, this feels like the basic layout a movie. A first act sets up the story and is about the same length of the conclusion of the story, which added up are about the same length of act two.

I'm growing in my writing (hopefully) so I'm trying to move away from exact numbers like that. I still just use the notecards to plan my stories. Each notecard you see is a scene or a sequence of scenes or a feeling or idea that takes place at that time. It helps me, again hopefully, follow the arc of my characters through a story. It helps me see if my main character is even driving my story.

Once I'm done with the notecards, I turn them into an outline in my screenwriting program of choice lately, Slugline. Almost every time, during the outline phase, some of the notecards change. Typing out the notecards helps me notice holes or boring parts.

Anyway, that's my general flow. The specific number of notecards is a leftover of a more insecure writer, but I don't think the cards will be going anywhere anytime soon.