Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Highlighters, coloured index cards & gel pens, oh my!

(Side note: who says "oh my" anymore? Not any young'uns, that's for sure. Oh and plus, this post is looong. So maybe... don't read it on your lunch break?)

I have a stationery fetish.

 In fact, I'm writing these very words on gorgeous paper that can only be defined as orchid (aka purple). I take any opportunity to use my rawksome old-fashioned writing utensils. Yeah, that's right, I actually write on paper. And this is the Millenium baby you're talking to! In my opinion, there's no better way to put your hand muscles to work than when outlining. Here's a colourful method to try. (And, since this post turned out to be way longer than I thought, I gave you subtitles! Yay!)

index cards + setting = highlighters + characters

Assign each setting in your novel an index card colour, say orange for school, blue for home, red for the water park, etc. Write down a summary sentence for each scene on its respective colour and lay them out in front of you. What do you see?

If there's a lot of orange, then you know you can take the time to develop your protag's school life more in-depth. Add some teacher names, describe a favourite (or hated) class, maybe even a little description about the barf-coloured bathrooms? My point is: if one setting is particularly important, make it interesting, make it reactive. Make it alive. Setting is a powerful element you can manipulate, and coloured index cards will help you do just that.

Now assign each of your secondary characters (basically, everyone except your main character) a highlighter colour. Mark every scene with the colours of the characters present and then take a gander. Just like with your settings, identify which secondary characters are most essential to the story and make them distinctive. Consider giving them some backstory, or conflict amongst themselves. An active setting is a treat, but active characters are a must.

gel pens + small stuffz = OMG I WANT THAT GLITTER PEN.

Now that you've got some of the big-picture stuff down, arm yourself with those gel pens -- oooh, is that a sparkly teal blue? Here, I'll trade you my hot pink for it. Pretty please? What? Keep going? Oh right, sorry. Got sidetracked. Ahem. *clears throat*

We're going hunting for adverbs, telling vs. showing and dialogue tags. Underline any adverbs you find in, say, purple, any passages full of telling where you could be showing in yellow, and dialogue tags in green.

Look over each purple mark and ask yourself if those adverbs really are necessary. Same with the dialogue tags -- can the conversation carry itself after a while? And for yellow passages, decide whether showing or telling would be more effective. Sometimes it is the latter, but those occasions must be judiciously identified.

conclusion. Because my high school English teacher always tells me I need one.

By now your hands are probably smeared with glitter and your floor might be littered with index cards. But hey, who ever said a creative mind is an organized one? ;)


  1. I'm not nearly organized enough to do this, plus I don't really have space for all those cards and all that paper, but I hear there is software that is good at this. Like Scrivener.

    Otherwise, great post and great point, thanks, Yahong!

  2. Hmmmm. The notecard idea - I'm all in. That's a fabulous idea. Strutting my entire book that way will also help balance the scenes; visually the colors will tell me if too much of the story takes place here and more needs to happen here - that sort of thing. And the characters in highlighters colors. Nice. Gel pens for adverbs. Great. I'm visual so this whole concept is just what I need. Thank you.

  3. Yahong,

    I know a lot of writers do a "storyboard" with index cards, in order to map out their manuscript. I could NEVER do this, though I wish I could! I'd lose half the cards on day one, probably use one or two (accidentally) to get rid of a piece of gum, and my daughter would draw on the rest!

    Yeah, I'm pretty lucky to find my car keys each day and remember how to spell my name! ;)

  4. Matt -- oooh, does Scrivener actually do that? Never knew!

    Barbara -- yes, visuals rock socks! So glad this'll work for you!

    Hilary -- eeheehee, guess organization is overrated, eh? :P

  5. I haven't actually used it, but it has like a corkboard function for sticky notes or flash cards. I'm told it's great.

  6. I use colored sticky notes for my settings--you have to get the super sticky ones. :) Using highlighters for characters is a great idea, too...I need to go pull mine out now!

  7. I am so impressed and really need to do something like this. I vow to be more organized with the next manuscript, and if I'm not, please threaten to sprinkle glitter on me.

  8. Something that has helped me get a little insight into my writing is making a word cloud and seeing which words are the most used/underused in the text. Plus, they are v. pretty! Here's where you can make one.

  9. I'm off to the office supply store. I use color coding as a writer and I teach it to my students. Since most people are visual learners it is a great key to being organized.

  10. I like the visuals. I think they can help you to see things in ways you hadn't in the past. I'm experimenting with using note cards for my current WIP--my first time.

  11. Oooh, I like this gel pen idea.

    I like to use different colored post-its for each POV (which ends up being each scene/chapter). Then I can move them all around easily. Of course this only works until about one-third of the way into the first draft before it all changes, but it's fun while it lasts.

    I did check out scrivener before starting this latest draft and liked the looks of it a lot. But I'm in a time crunch and it looked like a wee bit of an investment to figure out all the features. They had a 30 day free trial, though, so that's appealing. Thanks for the suggestions, Yahong! Now I want to go lurk at the office supply store. :)

  12. Faith -- super-sticky ones. Noted. :D

    Dee -- you know I'll have my glitter tubes at arms!

    Tim -- ohhh, Wordle! Soo cool! I've seen teachers use them a lot, actually.

    Leslie -- yeah, colour-coding seems to appeal to a lot of people, especially for organization.

    Paul -- cool, let us know how the note cards go!

    Marissa -- post-its for each POV is an awesome twist! And I think I need to check out Scrivener now too. PS: don't tell anyone, but I lurk in office supply stores all the time. *nods head gravely*

  13. I don't know what kind of system you work on Yahong, but Scrivener is about to come out for Windows. I have a Mac too, but it's super old, and I don't write on it.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!