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How scene cards can build a bridge in your story

As I’m working on my next manuscript, I have a feeling for the beginning and end of my story but I don’t really know much about that big, sticky, middle section yet. But after reading The Writer’s Guide to Writing Your Screenplay by Cynthia Whitcomb, I’m using a technique she discusses to help me discover more of my story.

Basically, using a stack of 3×5 index cards, you write your working title on one card, Act I, Act II, and Act III on three others, and then write out as many scenes from the beginning and ending that you know you’ll have. Write down the basic information: where, when, and what. Some of these will be “obligatory” scenes, i.e. in a romance story, you have to have a scene where boy meets girls. In a mystery, you have a scene with a dead body. In a thriller, the bad guy is introduced.

Whitcomb says once you get a good stack of cards, say 30+ scenes, then start laying them out on a table from beginning to end. Most likely, you’ll have more cards near the beginning and another big pile near the end. These two piles—the beginning and the end—create a bridge to each other.

Once you have the foundation of your bridge, you can start brainstorming the middle pieces. Whitcomb suggests you:

  • Find ways to make life harder for your protagonist
  • Throw stumbling blocks in their path
  • Throw in some fun stuff (if it fits your story’s tone)
  • Be wildly creative (you don’t have to use all the scenes)

Read Whitcomb’s book for a more detailed description of how she uses scene cards to plan her stories.

To read more of Whitcomb’s advice, check out my previous post, “Write your book blurb first to stay on track.”

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