While waiting for various co-written projects to make their way back to my inbox and anxiously querying literary agents, I have decided to distract myself by remembering to update my blog.

(I apologise in advance if this makes as much sense as monkeys attempting Shakespeare – I am full of lurgy)

The contents of this post will be obvious to many of you. Writers love index cards. They love that they come in lots of different colours and can be written on with a variety of coloured pens. They love them so much that they peruse stationary shops looking for the perfect bulldog clips to safely secure them.

However, beating out a plot is only one way to utilise those tantalisingly blank rectangles. I am going to present a more complicated system that some of you may seize as vital to screenplay composition, and which others will love because it adds another few hours of procrastination before actually having to write the damn thing.

This particular “tactile spreadsheet” came together on a Realm Pictures script weekend (I would say script retreat, but it took place in my living room) and is for a TV series.

The biscuits are the most important part, obviously.
The biscuits are the most important part, obviously.

Rows

In this example, the columns are episodes and the rows represent different aspects of the episode. These range from basic plot to location (there’s a lot of travelling in this series), character question to closing image. For this particular series, we needed to name the antagonist for each episode – a crime drama might want a “murder” row or a large ensemble like The Wire or Downton Abbey might name the principle characters of the episode.

One of the things we felt was getting lost in a more “traditional” plotting model was the character arc. By including a row that was meant to specifically deal with this point, it forced us to put something down (writers just love to fill a blank space).

“But” I hear you cry “you cannot leave that scrawl all over your dining table! Think of the children!”. No indeed. My husband needs his dinner on that table when he gets home – and how shall I pen my long dramatic letters to my numerous acquaintance?

character

Therefore, the only sensible option is to transfer this paper marvel to computer. We tried to take a picture of the whole thing but we couldn’t get the height, exposure or detail required to make it usable. We therefore decided to transfer it into a digital spreadsheet and I then shared it using Google Drive. Why this particular platform? Well, it allows for collaborative editing, so that we could add and amend it as required.

When I need to index on the go, I prefer to use Text Block Writer on the laptop and Index Card on the iPad. It’s irritating that there isn’t a single programme to use cross-OS, but they both export to RTF. The advantage of paper is that you don’t have to worry about the font, colour and margins getting lost in the conversion.

What are your favourite uses for index cards? Do you have a “spreadsheet-style” plotting system?

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