Screenwriting : Index cards by LA Rob

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LA Rob

Index cards

Are index cards the best way to begin your script?

Fiona Faith Ross

I follow Blake Snyder's method. His first rule is, only 40 cards are allowed: First Act x 10, Second Act x 20, Third Act x 10. There is some flexibility in that one card can represent a scene sequence or set piece. I start with too many scenes and it takes several iterations to get down to the 40, but he says this is normal. I have to outline my story and scenes, before I come off the screen and write out the cards. So, to summarise, the first stage, for me, is breaking the story. I write it first as a fairy tale, and after that I like to do a ten/twelve page treatment. I should mention this takes me some weeks, so don't be surprised if it ends up a bigger job than you thought. Then I do the scene outline in a screenwriting software. Second stage is to move to the cards. You will make many big decisions here, moving scenes around, changing the order of events, cutting or combining others. Only when I'm happy with this structure will I go down to the next level of detail. But anyway, this is just my way of doing it, and I can't take credit for it. It's Blake Snyder's method, and it happens to suit me. I'm sure every writer on here will do it differently.

Pierre Langenegger

Some people use them, some don't. Give it a try and see what you think.

Anthony Cawood

I wrote my first feature with index cards, as per Fiona's example... was useful but I didn't stick slavishly to them and by the end I'd say 50% of what was in the script was on those cards. For my next feature I outlined in a Word document and then wrote the script, very similar results with 50% or so match. Third, fourth and fifth scripts... I just started writing with a vague plan in my head and a clear idea of the ending, I really enjoyed the freedom and the act of 'discovering' the story as I went. Bottom line, as CJ and Pierre call out, try it, see if you like it, if not try something else.

Jody Ellis

I've used index cards in the past, as well as writing a loose outline. I no longer feel the need to do that, as I usually have a pretty good outline in my head before I start a new script. For me, that kind of stuff is a time sucking endeavor that just keeps me from doing what I'm supposed to do, which is WRITE it already!!!!

Landon J. Morrell

You need to do what works best for you. Me....I do a rough outline....then use index cards that I can shuffle, add, delete....so that the story moves forward.

Bill Costantini

The best way for me to begin my script is to conceptualize a well-defined concept and theme. I can't even start thinking about characters and plot unless I first know what I am trying to write about. Then I begin addressing the characters and what happens on a wall board. Without a wall board that details out the characters, conflicts, plot points, transformations, twists, rising action, resolution, etc., I'd have no chance of writing an evocative and cohesive story with memorable characters that unifies the actions at the end, and that might be considered salable by industry professionals. Nada, zero, zilch chance.

Regina Lee

Every situation is different. In general, I'd say outline first, then index cards if necessary. Think of it like a puzzle. The puzzle pieces are index cards. You should first know what the image of the puzzle is going to be before you break down its component parts and put them back together.

Bill Hartin

First, I pitch my film to myself. If it is remotely interesting I then pitch it to anyone who will listen, preferably strangers. I've done this so often that one guy at a coffee shop runs the other way when he sees me coming. I carefully jot down every question I get because they usually reveal holes in my story. Only if I get more positive than negative reactions, so I force myself to write the first and last scenes in my story, no matter how bad they come across and no matter how many times I end of changing them because it gives me my start and end points. Then I fashion some sort of outline, bouncing back and forth from index cards and outline until I have a usable road map. For my note cards, I draw a line down the middle and write the scenes, beats and plot points on the left, with character notes on the right. It's only after I've thoroughly familiarized myself with both outline and cards that I sit down, fire up my Final Draft and start writing, forcibly resisting the temptation to refer to the outline and cards until I've completed a first draft. Then, and only then, do I go back and compare my first draft with what I wrote in my outline and note cards. This helps me avoid a lock-step feel or tone in my screenplay. It's also a handy rewrite tool when all the holes start popping up and I feel a major cringe ready to grip me.

Kody Chamberlain

I use index cards for everything I do, and I jump on WorkFlowy to finalize my outline. Still, I think the best method is the one that works best with your particular brain. I tried a dozen or so methods before I found the one that worked best for me.

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