Tools for Fiction Writers: Index Cards. Yes, Index Cards.

Index Cards in several colors

Index Cards for Invention

Howdy folks. Did you miss me? My apologies for being so long between posts. I’ve been focused on the fiction and on a writing conference I recently attended, at which I’m happy to say I was not marked as a complete loser who should never write fiction again. So, yay for that. Okay, enough about me and on to the main event:

note Cards in a BoxNote Cards!

I know, you’re falling over with excitement, right? Well, I am, because these cards, the plain old, paper, 3 x 5 or 4 x 6 index cards, are a thrilling new fiction writing tool for me.

Here’s the deal. I love my electronics. My laptops, large and small are particularly dear to me. My 7” and 10” tablets, my phone and even my small music player from that fruit company keep me going in a pleasant daily swirl of media.

I also love using my electronics for writing novels. Word processing changed my life. I used to type, people, on a manual, portable Smith-Corona typewriter (Google that word if you’re not familiar). So, when word processing came along, with its lack of white correction fluid and its ability to just make text bold with your having to backspace a hundred times and type over the same word ten times, I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven.

I use the well-known suite of corporate software from a giant software company and I use Scrivener for Windows, the latter for my second novel (just starting) and the former for my first (gradually finishing).These are fine tools, but the sticking point I find with them both is:


In the corporate world we sometimes call this step “ideation.” In the fiction realm, some of us call this “dreaming stuff up,” which process lends its name to this blog. This is the pre-planning stage, where you’re just spewing up ideas from the inner recesses of your twisted mind like lumps of mud from a seldom-used well pump.

What you want during this process is for your mind to run free. You (meaning “I” – your mileage may vary) don’t want anything imposing order on these ideas or on your mind. You just want to generate, generate, generate. It’s brainstorming at its finest. At least, you hope it is.

I find the trouble when I do this brainstorming and record the notes on a computer, in any form, that I can’t curb the impulse to impose order on them. A word-processing or spreadsheet program puts the ideas into lines, which I then must rearrange into some order. Scrivener has its soft note cards, which I am compelled to start arranging into a story as I put ideas on them.

The result is that my dreaming-up process gets short-circuiting by the planning process, which doesn’t need to be happening at this stage. My recently discovered solution to this is:

funCardBoxA Box and Some Paper Cards!

I have an idea. I jot it on the index card. I stick the index card into a box. Now the card is hidden. I do this with several more index cards. Now I have several ideas, all hidden, arranged in no particular order. The ideas are not sitting there in front of me, begging to be arranged. When I think I have enough ideas, which is just an instinct, I pull out the cards and start arranging. Not until I have them in some rough order to I put the ideas into electronic format.

I tried this with the planning of novel number two and it worked really well. I am still a slow planner, but the index cards made the invention process a lot faster and a lot more fun. And fun is what this fiction writing deal is all about for me, at least until I get that $2,000,000 contract.

If your invention process is buggy, try the index card thing. It might work for you. And if not, I’m sure something else will. Heck, Faulkner used a wall for “The Sound and the Fury” (I think that was it). I’ve seen said wall. So find your cards, or your wall, or your clay tablet and go for it! I wish you happy writing.