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Puzzle Piece Plot, or Index Cards For the Win!

Puzzle piece plotLately I’ve been hard at work on my third contemporary YA novel, and, while I love the story and love my protagonist, this book has been giving me trouble, my friends. Right here in River City. (Okay, New York City, but whatever.)

I know every book is different, and that’s all part of being a writer, but sometimes I feel like the universe played a cruel joke on me — the plot of My Life After Now came to me so easily, and now I can’t help feeling like every book should be that effortless to write. Meh. For this current project, I have all these random ideas floating around in my head, all these plot points, all these character possibilities, but it’s taking a loooong while for them to form some sort of shape. I’m growing antsy. 

But here’s the thing: I know it will be fine. I will finish the first draft and then I will have a better idea of what the overall structure of the book should be, and then I’ll be able to go back and revise, revise, revise until I have something I’m happy with. And you know how I know this? Because it happened with my second book too, The Summer I Wasn’t Me. I was pulling my hair out with that one, and that’s when I discovered the BEST WRITING TOOL EVER. Index cards.

Normally I’m not an outliner. I’m one of those writers who usually doesn’t know what’s going to happen until she sits down in front of her computer and the words come out. But when you’re dealing with a lot of characters and a complicated plot, something’s gotta give. I’m getting old — my brain just isn’t able to retain and organize things like it used to. So I started writing down my ideas on index cards. One card for each plot point, no matter how big or small. Then, once the idea was out there, written down, I didn’t have to worry about remembering it anymore and therefore my mind was free to come up with new, better ideas. So those new ideas each got their own index card, and the old ones got thrown out. (I mean recycled. Save the planet!)

Once I had a stack of all the ideas in my head, I spread the cards all out on the floor and moved them around until I had them in the order I wanted them. This is the best part of the index card method, because if you’re a visual learner, like me, you can see it. You can see where things should go, you can try out different places, different orders, and see where you still have holes and where you still need to focus your attention. Suddenly, the story comes together right before your eyes.

Then I just kept those handy little index cards in a handy little stack, all in order, and flipped from card to card as I wrote. Voila! A book. Amazing.

It worked so well with The Summer I Wasn’t Me that I’m doing it again with this new book (as yet untitled). I’ll let you know how it goes!

6 Responses to Puzzle Piece Plot, or Index Cards For the Win!

  1. You can do it, ladybug! Go! Go! Go!

  2. Steven Shaw says:

    I am in LOVE with this suggestion. I’m totes adopting this strategy.

  3. JessVerdi says:

    Thanks, D!

    Steven, it’s really the best. Hope it works for you too! 🙂

  4. I think this is a great idea. Thanks for sharing it, Jess!!

  5. Nicole Mc says:

    I use this system also, and I LOVE it. 🙂

  6. nadiaK says:

    Great idea. I’m definitely adopting this strategy for my current book. 🙂


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