How to NaNoWriMo: Scene Cards

Your NaNoWriMo goal every year is to write 50,000 words.  So how do you get there?

Scene Cards For the Win!

We’ve talked about creating characters.  You’ve worked on your 7 Point Story Structure.  Now you have to fill in all the blanks.

This is where scene cards come in.

Using Scene Cards

Boiled down, a scene card is an index card.  That’s it.  But on that index card, you write a scene description.  It doesn’t have to go in any particular order in your story yet, even!

To get started, take your 7 Point Story Structure and write out a card for each of the key scenes.  Do this for the 7 Points of your main plot and each of your sub plots.  This gives you a basic skeleton to hang the rest of your scenes off of.

Next, lay out these scenes, leaving gaps where there are gaps in the story.  This is what you need to fill in.  This is where the meat of your story will go.

Download the FREE printable scene cards!

How many scene cards?

If you’re aiming for a short story, one set of 7 Points is just about all you need.  If you’re aiming for a full-length novel, though, you’re going to need more.  Estimate of how many pages and words you typically write per scene.  Divide this into your goal to determine how many scenes you should end up with.

Filling in the scene cards

If you start with a main plot and at least two sub plots, you’ll have at least 7-21 scene cards already.  For my story this year, I have two sub plots, which yield 13 Points that do not overlap between the three plots.  I’ve estimated that I’ll need probably 60 scenes to fill my 50,000 word goal.

That may sound like a lot, but it’s really not.  Some of the Points will give me more than one scene.  For example, my first Point illustrates that the main character feels torn between loyalty to her family and wanting to follow a different path.  This is going to take several scenes to set up.  She also develops a friendship with several people in her training squad.  There’s another 3-5 scene cards.  It may surprise you how fast scenes add up.  Remember too: your scene cards can be as detailed or brief as you want them to be.  You can always fill in more later.

You also don’t want to limit yourself.  If, while you’ve been letting your story stew in your brain, you’ve found a couple of scenes that you feel could be important, write them down.  Even if you don’t know where they fit yet, write them down.  This is still an exploratory part of the process!  You don’t have to write down scenes in order.  If a great scene comes to mind while you’re writing down another one, write it down even if it’s unrelated.

Play With It

Once you have at least the number of scene cards that you estimated you need, you can start playing around with them.  Try to ignore any preconceived order.  Where you thought the story needed to begin or end may not be the best place after all!

You might want to play with your scene cards on the floor.  A novel’s-worth of scene cards can take up a lot of space!  If you feel like being super organized, you can arrange them in rows based on Acts I/II/III or something similar.  Whatever makes sense in your brain, go for it.  I just lay them out in rows that I can reach without getting up.  Move cards around, try different combinations.  Nothing is set in stone, and it probably still won’t be, even after you start writing your story!

Stack It Up

At some point, you’ll find what feels like the right scenes in the right order.  You can stop there.  That doesn’t mean you can’t revisit it if it doesn’t feel right later, but this at least gives you a starting point.  You should feel excited to start, not burned out from trying every combination under the sun.

When you have your ‘magical’ outline order, stack them up.  Yep, stack up your index cards in order and rubber band them.  Set them aside.  Let it simmer for a few days and come back to it.  Lay out the cards again and see if it still feels right.  If something is off, tweak the cards – move them, add or remove some – then let them simmer again.  When you can come back after a few days and not feel the need to change something, you’ve probably got it.  Congratulations!  You now have a working outline for your story.

Download the FREE printable scene cards!

Have you used scene cards before?  Or is there another method that you prefer?

This post is part of the How to NaNoWriMo series.  Check out the other posts below:

Jenn
Co-Founder and Strategic Manager at The Spare Room Project
Having grown up near Seattle, Jenn is Washingtonian to the core, and believes that trees that lose their leaves are unnatural and snow is evil. Right now, though, she calls the-middle-of-nowhere Ohio home, having stayed after college. With a vastly varied background in creativity – from hosting a radio show to jewelry design to filmmaking – becoming the Strategic Manager and Wearer-of-Many-Hats for TSRP was meant to be!

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