Writing software or index cards? How about a storyboard!

I’ve been researching and testing fiction writing software for the last week or so.  The kind you need when your notes overtake your life and your dining table. Like so.

My new script is in the plot and character development stage and every time I get a brilliant flash I grab a sticky note, a scratch pad or any handy notebook, unless I’m actually sitting at my laptop. The story is starting to get unwieldy with subplots and characters and it was time to come up with a plan.

I used up all my giant yellow index cards on my last book and I thought my new project deserved an upgrade to software. So I ‘googled’ and found that Power Structure had the best reviews. All kinds of published writers swore by it and they couldn’t be wrong, could they?

So I clicked on ‘Buy Now’ ($129.00) praying that it will be worth my money. Here’s my review so far. You have to read the entire pdf manual. It is not very intuitive. I tried that first, but I couldn’t figure it out. So I read the whole manual and tested the Jack and Jill script at the back.

PS is definitely a learning curve. (But then I find QuickBooks too much of a learning curve.) Still, I hung in there. After all, this wasn’t freeware, so I played around with it until….Wouldn’t you know just when I was beginning to get the hang of it, it started getting buggy. I got ‘error notices’, ‘access violations’ and  ‘unable to send’ messages. ‘Terminate program’ had the truly fatal results that the message heralded.

When I lost three hours of work, I gave up. PS tech support is supposed to get back to me, but it hasn’t happened yet. Even if I get the bugs exterminated, I don’t know if I can depend on it…. wondering  if they are going to eat all my beautiful ideas.

So it was back to the index cards.  They were starting to look better all the time.

However, while researching ‘how to use index cards to structure your story (I’m a habitual ‘googler’) I found an interesting piece of organizational software and this was free. FREE! I It’s called Text Block Writer which is a virtual index card program for writers. You can organize any kind of writing the same way you’d use index cards. Rearrange them to your heart’s content. And they can also be exported as a WordDoc RTF which means you can print them out and tape them on cards if you like. It’s easy to use and easy to customize.

But even this wasn’t working for me and I think I know what it is.

Working at the computer doesn’t allow me to see the Big Picture. It keeps me hunched over, peering at the details, when I really needed to see where this story was going and where the plot holes were.

So in full circle I came back to index cards. But my bulletin board was too small. Too square. I wanted something to stretch out on. Give me room to spare so I wouldn’t feel claustrophobic.

I love my storyboard!

I thought about this a lot because I wanted something I could easily move if I’m not ready to share my right brain ideas with dinner company. Another requirement was that it wouldn’t leave holes in the wall or be too unsightly. Third and fourth requirements: it had to be cheap and easy.

Voila, this storyboard meets all my standards. Three foam boards and push pins. The push pins are just long enough to go into the wall.The 3 boards are roughly designated as the beginning, the middle and the end of the plot. I love it!

So I’m thinking it’s not a matter of writing software vs. index cards. I think there’s a need for both and I’m hoping to integrate the two tools so I can work out the details on one and have the Big Picture spread out before me on the other.

What do you think?

Let me know how you organize your work. If you use writing structure software, what do you think of your program of choice?

If you use index cards, how do you use them?

7 thoughts on “Writing software or index cards? How about a storyboard!

  1. I have a cork board and index cards, but your storyboard looks better than mine. I write down scenes, color coded by which character’s POV the scene is in. Then I rearrange them to which scenes would work better where. Whenever I move the cards, I put the page numbers on top that correspond to my rough draft or outline. I’ve heard about various software programs, and that Scrivner (sp?) is very good, but I don’t have a Mac.

    1. Thanks for your input Barbara. I like your idea of putting the page numbers on them that correspond to the rough draft, although I haven’t even gotten to the rough draft stage.

      I’m dealing with a very gnarly antagonist and I need to get her on board first!

  2. I don’t use index cards. I track my story using clear paper protectors pinned to curtains. You can read about in a post I wrote last year, at http://kjankowski.blogspot.com/2009/08/story-walls.html.

    This year, during NaNoWriMo, Scrivener offered a free trial of its writing software. I know writers who love it, but I was too impatient to sit through the video tutorials and didn’t want to shell out $99 (cheaper if you participated in NaNo) for something untried. Maybe they’ll offer it again this year.

    1. Kathryn: I finally got a chance to take a look at your storyboard. I will try to remember this when I get to the chapter phase. I really like being able to step away from the computer and see the whole plot spread out before me.

      It really helps in seeing the big picture.

      Besides that, I can look at the board and pick one plot point that needs developing and carry it with me. Just tucking that idea in some pocket of my brain and letting it sit there often produces surprising results. The details just start coming in.

  3. Awesome Rahma. Not on the pain in the butt software, but the free index card creator.

    I typically just write. If I have to jot down anything, it is scribbled across a few pages of notebook paper in a random notebook somewhere in a misplaced writing bag.

    I am woefully unorganized in this sense, but so far it seems to work!

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