Scene Cards

P1010936For those of you doing NaNo, creating scene cards is going to be a great technique to help you prepare. However, if you’re not doing NaNo, a scene card is still a technique you can use at anytime in your writing process.

What’s a scene card?

A scene card is a tool to help you think about what you are doing with a scene before you write it. It’s like having a mini outline for your scenes. They work as a guideline to help you have an idea of where you’re headed, before you sit down to write.

Creating a scene card is really simple.

1) Start by establishing where the scene takes place (location/setting), the time of day it happens, and if the action is interior or exterior.  Example: Interior, bank, morning.

2) In one sentence, (and force yourself to keep it to a single sentence), write out the action or what happens in the scene. Example: Mary robs the bank.

3) Identify the main conflict in the scene or the character’s agenda in the scene.  Example: Mary’s agenda is to rob the bank without hurting anyone. The external conflict: Mary has to make sure the patrons and employees don’t stop her. The internal conflict: Mary needs to overcome her fear that she can’t do this, and that it’s illegal, and pull it off anyway.

4) What is the emotional arc of the scene? What emotion does the character start with? And what emotion does he/she end with? Example: Mary begins the scene afraid and nervous, but she ends the scene feeling empowered after she thinks she’s pulled it off. 

That’s it!

Only, that is actually a lot of information to know before beginning a scene! Instead of meandering, a scene card can help you stay focused on what the scene is really about.

Now make one for every scene in your book!

Many people like to use index cards for this process. Personally, I type them up in word using the template below.

Scene Card

As many of you know, I’m not a huge advocate of over-planning. This is the kind of tool that could be taken too far. I suggest using it in broad strokes. Give yourself the basic idea of where your scene is headed. But don’t write down every look, beat, or turn of dialogue. Leave some room for freshness when you put the pen to the page!

Happy writing!

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8 responses to “Scene Cards”

  1. Ingrid, I enjoy reading your posts and look forward to using your ideas in my 3rd Nano. Congrats on your recent book deal. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned from your writing studies. I wish I could get into a writing program but for now I’ll have to settle for learning from advice like yours and lots of trial and error.

  2. I like your scene cards, Ingrid. But can you explain a little more about what you mean by interior/exterior?

    • Hi Michael,

      I realize I talked about interior/exterior in two different ways in this post. Sorry for the confusion. Initially, I meant it in regards to location. Are you in an interior space, such as a room, kitchen, hallway, etc. Or are you in an exterior space like a field, sidewalk, or forest. However, I also used these terms in regards to storyline. Internal storyline is the emotional and internal arc of the story (character growth, love, emotion). Where an external storyline is what happens to the character because of the world around them (things explode, they get robbed, someone dumps them, etc.). I hope this helps to clarify my meaning a little.

  3. Ellar Cooper says:

    Well, hey. I recognize that bulletin board. 😉

  4. Arlene says:

    Great tip!! I have never used scene cards so I plan to give this a try to see if I can get to the point in my scenes without getting distracted by frivolous conversations/dialogue and unnecessary descriptions. Thanks for the suggestion!

  5. L. Marie says:

    Great, Ingrid! I copied your scene card. Now I can print it on card stock.

  6. […] found Ingrid Sunberg’s scene cards and printed a bunch of them. But as I filled them, I realised they weren’t optimal for my […]

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