Write Hacks #15:


Colored 3 X 5s

Before computers did more than behave as glorified typewriters, and could perform only one task at a time, I needed a second organizational tool. I was still learning the shape of a scene, pacing, plot structure, etc. So, a critique partner came up with color-coded 3 X 5s. Mostly we worried about point of view, so each character got a different color, pink for girls, blue for boys, orange for villains, and the green and yellow for secondary characters (I’ve written books that had to expand into the neon colors as well). If we got a clump of one color it was easy to see ways to rearrange the scenes or eliminate some. Do it on the cards then make the sections match.

On each card we gave a line each to Goal, Conflict, Disaster. Then the lead in to the scene, the next step, the purpose of the scene. If the only purpose was to show the heroine is kind to dogs, then the scene needed plumping up or eliminating.

Page number and chapter number go on the very top in pencil because they change. Punch a hole in the top left corner and slide onto a notebook ring. Easier to take just the ring of cards to a brainstorm session than the entire 50lb desk top computer.

Now we do all this on our phones or tablets. But I still cling to my cards. I’ve reduced the information on the card to a single sentence of what happens in the scene though. I like the visual and textural experience of working with colored paper. Write a scene, document with a card. Although I keep a separate file with character names and odd vocabulary, I can also make notes on the cards. If I need to add, delete, or correct something, the cards tell me where I can find it. I can also keep track of a timeline so that an entire cozy mystery can take place over a long weekend. Sometimes I use post-it notes on the cards if I don’t want to go back and fix something right then and there, things like foreshadow the weapon, bolster this characters motivation. 2nd and 3rd drafts have a goal of eliminating the forest of post-its.

After the book is published, including that ring of cards with an ARC also makes a nice charity auction item.


About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: www.ireneradford.net Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.


Write Hacks #15: — 1 Comment