How I Write: Using Scene Cards to Tell a Story

Have you ever seen scene cards or a visual board for a movie? Or watched those videos giving people an inside look at what it’s like inside of a writers’ room?

On index cards sometimes just on a dry erase board or poster board, writers build a story just by its scenes. Instead of writing it out word by word, they draw or sketch it with images or words. Sometimes it’ll just be something as simple as ‘The Bad Man Dies’ and some sketch of how the scene should look or take place.

When the story’s long enough, these scene breakdowns can be feet long stretching out over rooms and floors. Mine never get that long. And the one I’m currently working on for my horror novella is definitely not that long, but no matter how long they are, visualizing your story before actually writing it is helpful.

Like with spreadsheeting a novel, I don’t think scene cards are necessary to the crafting of a good story. For me, scene cards—no matter at what stage I use them—are a great way for me to see my story both creatively and analytically. When writing, it’s easy to slip into this creative space where you’re not seeing how your story actually works from a reader’s perspective. Scene carding a story helps me see my story move from beginning to end without first having to write the thousands of words to create it.

Though I did write my horror novella before doing a full scene card break out of the story, I use Scrivener and they allow you to make scene cards right in the program. I used that feature to make basic scene cards of my story before actually writing it. I think that’s one of the main reasons it only took me a week to write the book. I had already spent months breaking it out into each functioning scene before writing. So while writing, I had a little guidebook of how the story should unfold.

But now that I’m working on cleaning up the early drafts to create something worth selling, I’m using my full scene card break out to troubleshoot the last issues of the story.

I’ve written a bit before about my scene card technique and its benefits, so I won’t go on to much about that side of scene carding. Instead, I’ll focus on this current round of scene carding and what I’ve learned from breaking my horror novella out into its moving parts.

My Horror Novella in scene cards

This is my horror novella. Every scene and moment that takes place is held on these cards. I distilled what information I put into my scene spreadsheet for the book and compared that information with the current draft of the novel—new scenes included—to see how it all worked together.

My template for what information to use on the card is below. And for reference, I use the larger 4-inch by 6-inch lined index cards because they’re just big enough for all the information I need to include but not big enough where I start packing my scenes with too much.

To learn what each of these elements of a scene means, check out my scene card resource shared above
I also include a scene number to keep track of their order

This go around, I found that the scene additions I wanted to add weren’t working in the order I added them. While they ‘worked’ there, they didn’t deliver the correct impact or build-up to make them fit in those slots. Fixing issues like that at this stage is really simple. I just move the scene card to its new order and replay the scene sequence in my head to see if it makes sense in that position.

I was also worried that my ending was too overloaded and realized while creating and ordering my scene cards that while the ending was the shortest section of the book, it also contained the most scenes. Things were moving too quickly and not being given enough space on the page or in the readers’ minds. So, I added some longer scenes that addressed lingering issues with the plot and lengthened some of the shorter scenes to show more aspects of how the story’s events were affecting the other characters in the story.

While I use actual index cards and have the above scene elements mapped out on them doesn’t mean that’s the only way to use or set up scene cards. Before I created these scene cards, I studied story and scenes for the elements that really caused a story to grow and a reader to feel. I read other scene card tutorials, watched videos, read books, and listened to lectures to come up with my scene card technique.

And there’s nothing stopping you from doing the same. Maybe you like the idea of using scene cards but filling them up with the elements of a scene sounds boring. Perhaps you want to focus less on the plot movement and more on the movement of your characters. Remix my scene cards or find others and see what you can come up with.

Here are some resources that were helpful on my journey to figuring out how to use scene cards for my novels:

Thanks for swinging by and checking about how I write and revise a story! Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Do you use scene cards while writing and revising? If so, what format do you use and how do you like it? I’d love to know your experiences and insights!

I appreciate you stopping by! I’d appreciate it even more if you’d consider subscribing to my blog or checking out some of the books, games, and stories I have available for fans, followers, and readers. As a subscriber, you’ll be the first to know what’s happening in my writing life and how I am making on in this fabulous career as a full-time writer.

One thought on “How I Write: Using Scene Cards to Tell a Story

  1. This is like that cork board feature in Scrivener, only in real life, lol. You using scene cards reminds me of Ryan Holiday and his card system. You know I always enjoy a good journey through another writer’s process, especially one as hardworking as you. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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