3 x 5 cards in your lap

I’ve never been able to relate to the industry standard “3×5 cards pinned to a board” as a way to look at my story pursuant to the great reshuffle and hoped-for story salvation… Maybe it’s just the way my tiny pea brain works. Or fails to. In any event, here’s how I do it. Perhaps this will work for you better than the board, which doesn’t work for me even remotely.

I do like 3×5 cards, let me go on record as saying that. They’re a good way to shuffle scenes around or throw them out or have piles of little ideas that can be parts of scenes or snippets of dialogue… they’re good to hold information that you want to put in a different order. They’re GREAT for that.

My first screenplay had a four inch high pile of cards. 120 page script. The one I’m working on now has about a 3/4″ pile. It will be around 120 pages too. Anyway… I still have the same dining room table, which is the key to the process. I guess it’s a board, but it’s a board with no pins, and therefore MUCH easier to use. I lay the cards out on the table, with a nice colorful card for Act I ending, Midpoint, and Act II ending… I look at them a while, move them around, add cards, and take them away… and then I stack them up in story order, pulling them off the table into a pile.

And then I sit there and flip through them. One by one… like a movie. I can see the scene even though I haven’t written it yet. Flipping gives a sense of motion that is impossible with a cork board. And, since they’re not pinned in, they are easy to move around. Or, my favorite, throw out.

Once I’ve done a reshuffle on my lap, I lay them out on the table and look at them again. Laying them on the table is good because it gives you a sense of the overall structure of the story… too short an Act II, too long an Act III, etc. I have color coded characters and noticed that, “Oh my, Charlotte vanishes for half of Act II. Who knew?”

I rubber band them together to move them back to my office. Who wants to drop their movie on the floor and watch all that restructuring vanish like smoke?

So the dining room table / cork board has its function, but the key to 3×5 cards is flipping through them one by one. You see the story that way, and it goes by with a rhythm. Pace is impossible to achieve if the cards are pinned to the wall like butterflies.


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