When the left side of your brain bullies the right

Earlier this week, I blogged about how I got away from the internet for a week and spent time in the real world. Since I spend roughly 25 hours a day online, that left me with lots of free time.

Fortunately, I also have a nearly-finished first draft to work on, and I decided to spend my time away from technology getting hands-on with my manuscript. *baum chicky baum baum*

Don’t worry, I didn’t get too fruity. I’d hate to think of how much those paper cuts would sting.

I’ve written about 85,000 words of my manuscript, which will be around 90k when finished. I edit as I write, so the beginning of my ms has already been through several drafts.

Also, I’m a puzzler. I write scenes as they come to me and then fill in the space around them with more scenes. That means I often have big story gaps that I have to think hard about because I have no idea how the characters got from A to M.

That’s the point I’m at now – I have the bulk of my story, but I know there are gaps, and I know I could be adding layers and weaving my conflict/growth threads through better.

So, I went all old-fashioned and I bought some index cards and some lovely arrow-shaped post-its. I love these arrows, and I’ll show you why in a second.

First, I made a key which lists the main conflicts in the story (five, because that’s how many different colored arrows I have, though there are six main conflicts in the story, which means I have to draw an arrow for one of them).

Next I wrote a very brief synopsis of what happens in each scene on an index card. I numbered them in pencil because it’ll be easier to swap them around that way. The card also lists what the catalyst for the next scene is – for example, if the hero decides to do something, or the heroine makes a big decision.

Then I put an arrow on the card to show what the main conflict in the scene is. The reason I love these arrows is that I can make them go up if the tension is rising, down if it’s resolving, or flat if it’s not very tense (clearly I don’t want lots of these, but I saw more than I was happy with).

When I lay out my first few chapters, here’s what it looks like:

Index cards on table

The key is the card in the top left corner. Pink is for the main conflict between my hero and heroine, so I’d expect to see that one cropping up the most, and I don’t want too many scenes in a row without it (since this is a romance novel). Yellow and orange are my heroine’s other two main conflicts, green is my hero’s main conflict (other than the woman I’ve created for him), and blue is a conflict they must face together. There’s also an orange sticky note on one of the scenes, telling me I need to do more research on a topic.

One of the things I notice is that I’ve got lots of scenes with only one thing going on. These are places where I may be able to layer more tension, or amalgamate scenes so they’re pulling more weight.


I’m better able to visualize where my story holes are, where I need to ramp up the tension, and how long my middle sags. I was also able to spot a scene where I couldn’t figure out what the conflict was and realized I’d only written it because I thought the reader would need the information. There’s one I can delete completely (see why it’s good to number with pencil?). Or, since this is so physical, I could burn the index card because it’d feel more significant than hitting delete on my keyboard.

Not so good

It takes a long, long time. In fact, I’m still not finished.

If you like this kind of method for keeping track of scenes, check out Miss Snark’s First Victim, who wrote earlier this week about how she does something similar using Scrivner (and it only took her an afternoon!)

This method might work for you if…

You’re as anal as you are creative.

You’re obsessed with paper products.

You have shed-loads of free time.

You write your scenes as they come to you without plotting beforehand.

Does anyone else do this? Please tell me you do so I won’t feel so sad. If not, how do you polish your novel and make sure you’ve filled all the gaps?


  1. Wow, Kat–that’s anal-retentive enough to make even me drool!

    On my last mss, I had to do this very thing. I also had to do it on my first book as it went through revisions, except I bought a big dry-erase board to use so I could use it again. I’ve also seen it done with colored post-its on a whiteboard (which I haven’t tried) and using sticky notes on a wall (who has that much wall space?). Even when I plot things ahead of time, I end up needing to go back and look at a manuscript this way.

    1. I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one, Suz. I like the idea of colored post-its, mostly because it would give me an excuse to buy more goodies. I’d be worried that someone would accidently rub off all the text on my white board and I’d then have to kill them. And I think my husband would kill *me* if I decorated our house with my story (unless it’s a framed cover of my future best-seller which will allow him to retire).

  2. Kat, I totally love tools like this. I use index cards, charts, diagrams. I want to try drawing graphs on music staves just to see if that would tell me anything. Anal rules.
    I hadn’t thought of using Post-it arrows like this… hmmm, I feel a cards session coming on. I’m tweeting this.

    1. Glad you like, Roz, and thanks for tweeting it! I’d be interesting in hearing if your “musical” graphs show you anything.

      I’m all about the nerd tools. Yesterday Sarah MacLean tweeted a pic of her last notecard, which is on her plotting wall. She said she has a wall painted with chalkboard paint and puts a notecard on it for each scene. Amazing. I didn’t even know you could buy chalkboard paint.

      But I think I’ll stick with tools that don’t require me to do loads of DIY when I move out.

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