The Index Card: An awesome writing tool

I just started using both physical and digital index cards in order to plan out the next sequence of The Winchcombe scenes, and I found them surprisingly useful. (Some background: I'm using a television series metaphor when thinking about The Winchcombe. Each comic is a "scene". Scenes that tell a relatively self-contained story are then collected into "Episodes", I'm envisioning around 20 to 25 scenes will make up an episode.)

I used physical cards to quickly capture a scene with a line of description. In the upper right corner, I encoded some information:

  1. a letter A, B, C, or D to associate the card with a storyline
  2. A location
  3. The main character's name

Then I captured some ideas for what would happen in each scene. Critical beats. Location information. Sequences of events. The cards were handy here because I just carried them in my pocket with my pen and notepad, so whenever I had a spare moment, I could pull them out and work on them anywhere to catch those fleeting ideas.

When it came time to assemble the scenes into an episode, I was able to lay all the cards out on my table and arrange them however I wanted. I did this in a couple of ways:

  1. by storyline, so I could easily see where I was missing a scene or had one too many
  2. in order of appearance, in order to get a sense of the flow of the episode as a whole

scrivcards.png I then transferred the pertinent information to Scrivener. I then used the index card interface to break down each scene into panels. Doing this gave me a very interesting and useful sense of really looking at panels when composing a scene (click on the image for a better look).

But I'm not the only one with things to say about writing and index cards. Screenwriter John August has 10 tips for using index cards:

  1. Keep it short. Maximum seven words per card.
  2. A card represents a story point, be it a scene or a sequence. You don’t need a card for every little thing.
  3. Keep cards general enough that they can be rearranged. (“Battle in swamp” rather than “Final showdown”)
  4. Horizontal (a table or counter) often works better than a vertical (a corkboard).
  5. Post-It notes make good alternative index cards.
  6. Consider a letter code for which characters are featured in the sequence. Helpful for figuring out who’s missing.
  7. Most movies can be summarized in less than 50 cards.
  8. Cards are cheap. Don’t hesitate to rework them.
  9. Consider a second color for action sequences. Helps show the pacing.
  10. Write big. You want to be able to read them from a distance.


10 hints for index cards (