Do you remember the school days when you were assigned a paper and were told to make an outline before writing? You were also told to use index cards? When I was younger, I was a pantser. I wrote everything without even a skeleton of an outline. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. By avoiding outlining and index cards, I avoided a lot of work. Maybe I’m not a pantser but just slightly lazy when it comes to pulling together my ideas.
I have matured though. I am no longer a pantser. I am a plotter. Pantsing might work for literary fiction or short stories but if you are writing anything with a complicated plot and subplots then outlining is necessary. My first attempt at writing a mystery without an outline went poorly. I stopped at a 100 pages. It’s still sitting in Google Docs waiting for me to revisit and rewrite it. I am now onto mystery number two and this time I outlined and I am keeping index cards.
What use do the index cards have? As I write, I keep track of characters including locations, their characteristics, their beliefs and potential clues. If I mention a character on page 5 and then again on 30 I can just refer to the index card to remind exactly what I wrote about the character. This is to make sure everything is consistent. It’s easy to lose track of what you wrote from one page to the next and nothing makes rewriting worse than chaotic facts and descriptions about what you wrote.
Where do you keep mounds of index cards? I have a cheap index card container for every story. For my current book, The Deep Forest, I bought a container for $1.00. I put a sticker on it with the title of my book. So far there is plenty of room. If I outgrow it, no big deal. I just spend another $1.00. The bottom line is that you don’t need anything expensive to keep the writing process organized and helpful. I was reading a blog where one writer spent almost $40 on an index card case. Don’t do that. Keep it simple and remember your chief goal is just to stay organized not fashionable.
Despite now being a plotter, if you are a pantser index cards might still be helpful. I’ve started keeping track of ideas on index cards. I keep a stack next to my computer. As I read the news or other content on the internet, I jot down things that are interesting or might become a story later on. I have a larger container for these cards and I revisit them every month or so.