Sometimes story planning can seem like an insurmountable task. Looking at the scope of your entire story can be very overwhelming if you take it in one large chunk. The most effective strategy to make this planning more manageable is to break it down into smaller pieces. One way to do this is to use index cards. Rather than itemizing your story in a spreadsheet or using something wide-reaching like a mind map, try writing down scenes that you’d like to see in your story on index cards. Use index cards for your character breakdowns and setting notes. Index cards may be the answer to all of your problems.
As before, we turn to Chuck Wendig’s blog post about 25 Ways to Plot, Plan, and Prep Your Story. Under the heading of “Index Cards,” Wendig says “Index cards are a kick-ass organization tool. You can use them to do anything — list characters, track scenes, list chapters, identify emotional shifts, make little Origami throwing stars that will give your neighbors wicked-ass paper-cuts. Lay them on a table or pin ‘em to a corkboard.”
I happen to agree: index cards are kick-ass. They’re a great and portable way to organize different aspects of your story or, frankly, different aspects of anything. As Wendig says, index cards can be arranged in any way that you like — you can pin them to a cork board in your office, you can carry them with you in your purse, and you can lay them out in a grid on your floor and stare at them, wiling the novel to write itself (spoiler: that doesn’t work).
The best part about index cards as a planning tool, I think, is that you can move them and shift them as your story takes shape. If you’ve written down scenes that make up your story, then you can arrange them under different chapter headings or in different orders as your story changes. Index cards leave your story fluid and allow you to plot and plan even while you’re writing.
— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan