Sunday, September 07, 2008

WP document, Excel file or index cards?



Years after I'd started using a word processor, only once did I revert to the old cut and paste method of putting a story together. 'Reading by the Light of the Moon', subsequently published in The MacGuffin and The Clackamas Review resisted my efforts to put it into any coherent form. So finally I printed the damn thing out, cut it into scenes, and commandeered the kitchen table for days while I figured out what went where as I shuffled its various parts this way and that.

And all that for 3,400 words - perhaps the longest story I'd written to date. (When I tell people I started with short stories, I mean short!)

Other stories followed, and they came together OK on the screen, without any extreme surgery. My adult novel-in-progress 'Who Do You Wish Was With Us' seems settled into standard Ms. form - unfinished as it is, and perhaps always will be.

Meeting Miss 405 was written in five days, and although it benefited from the gentle hand and kind hearted attention of my editor at Orca - Sarah Harvey - no major reconstruction was required.

But now with my next novel to put into coherent form, plot-wise, I find I've reverted not to the scissor and tape process, but to the index card system, along with a little help from an Excel spreadsheet to help me keep all the various threads together and visible in one place.

O! But I love these little cards - the 5x8 ones have room for scene names, plot points, character elements, linking themes, colour coding, numbering, and all manner of barely legible annotations.

And I can carry them with me everywhere.

It all seems rather retro - this whole new process in which I've shifted from the more organic process I've used before - putting down one word, then following it with another, and another, one leading to another, until I could see where they all led me - to this one, which puts me firmly in the left-brain camp, where I never really felt I belonged.

It will be interesting to see how long I last, in this new environment.

I do, after all, have 200 index cards to work with.

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