Computers have changed the way we write but has it been for the good or the ill? Sitting in a corner of the local wi-fi enabled coffee shop with a half finished, cold latte we peck away at our laptops writing streams of words, sentences and paragraphs looking forward to the day when we see our masterpiece on the screen. Oh, you’ve just reached a point in your screenplay that once again refers to your lead character’s grandmother. You need to stop your writing and load the lead character’s history file and then re-read the document for the eighteenth time just to track down his grandmother’s maiden name. Once you find her maiden name your return to your screenplay only to realize your lost your writing roll and your mind has gone blank.
For as good as it is to have dozens of files about your screenplay on your laptop it often pulls you away from your writing and slows you down. That’s why I still prefer to use good old fashion index cards when I’m writing. In a future Workshop post I will detail how I use the cards to plot out my entire screenplay, but today I want to talk about all of the other uses for 3 x 5 cards.
This is where having cards of a different colour would come in handy. I prefer yellow index cards for character information. Start with a blank card and write your Hero’s name at the top of the card and below the character’s name write “Family History”. This card will list the names and ages of the character’s family, including his grandmother’s maiden name. On a second card write the character’s name at the top once again and “Personal Information” below his name. This card will list various details such as his birthday date, his character flaw, his motivation and any other information about the character you can think of. A third card will be his Life Details – his car, apartment, his work and any other information about his day to day life.
These are often created while I’m writing the screenplay. The Hero visits a bar and he talks with the bartender, a blonde woman named Penny. At this point I pull out a pink index card and write the name of the location at the top of the card followed by the words, “Bartender : Penny (Blonde)”. When my hero returns to the bar in 13 pages I pull out the location card for the bar and immediately I know the bartender’s name is Penny. This time the bouncer is introduced and his name is added to the card for the next time the hero returns to the bar in another 15 pages.
Another use of the cards when talking about locations is to draw the floor plan of a location or even a drawing a couple of storyboards. Sometimes your scenes are so complicated that it is important for you to keep track of the location of the various characters and props in a scene or sequence. This is where a drawing would come in handy. You could map a character’s movements with a different colour pen and some arrows.
Check out the April and May Workshop posts to learn how to use the index cards for plotting out your screenplay. So you have a month to head down to your favourite stationary store and pick up some index cards and a package of different coloured pens.
See you next time, Steve