Picture OutlineThe first half of “The Burning Girl” outlined on record cards

When I started preparations for writing “The Burning Girl”, I considered various ways to keep track of those story beats and details that keep the narrative moving forward (and hopefully keep the readers turning the page!). 

My daughter recommended an app called “A Novel Idea” but sadly it doesn’t work on my Android devices. Evernote is excellent and I’ll be talking about that more in a future blog post, and I also use stacks of notebooks and of course word processing, but for (re) sequencing a story, everything seems too linear, too two-dimensional. I was looking for 4 dimensions, easy to track and change, ideally separating out story strands when I needed to.  

So I went old-fashioned, back to a technique I used to use for script-writing – record cards

Now I’m just talking STORY here, not character or location or research - though you can make notes about these aspects on record cards too, even snatches of dialogue. But I thought it worth sharing with you the advantages of using simple record cards, or at least why I use them for story planning.

Some novelists don’t plan at all, and sometimes I prefer not to plan my writing and just let the story happen. And I started “The Burning Girl” without a plan, while I explored the characters and where they wanted to take me. Pages and pages of notes and early drafts.

But “The Burning Girl” is a crime thriller, full of twists and turns, and I quickly found myself needing to keep a note of important details. I also realised that that I would have to keep checking and re-sequencing the Story Sequence (or the Plot) as the narrative unfolded.

So I’m working with record cards because I can:

1. Work with them anywhere, even when there’s no electricity (such as waiting for my daughter to come out of school) or where there’s no space (such as a crowded train). 

2. Re-order them easily, including colour coding to differentiate actions, story strands, events and necessary exposition.

3. Add new information easily anywhere into the sequence.

4. Present them in a variety of ways, laying them out on the table, putting them on a noticeboard, scattering them beside me when I’m working on the laptop, carrying them in a pack, etc etc.

5. Record just enough about a scene to get writing it; in fact, I find the limited space on a record card helps me focus exactly what that story element is about.

and most importantly, because I can:

6. Afford them! A pack of coloured record cards costs just £1.50 from my local supermarket. I can afford to use two packs if necessary. Why pay more?

In the comments, let me know how you organise your story.

​Best wishes until tomorrow.