What do I put on my screenplay’s plot index cards?
15. Plot like Dr. Evil: Get on track & stay on it
Are your screenplay’s index cards mini essays crammed onto tiny pieces of paper? Do your cards make little to no sense the day after writing them? Have you made an attempt at a beat sheet only to find you have to write on both sides of every index card because you have so much in each scene that just can’t be left out?
If you answered yes, or even kinda, to any of those questions, boy do we have the antidote to all your pain! Okay, maybe not your broken heart or that weird bunyon thing on your foot – but your writer’s pain for sure. We gots all the insider tricks used industry-wide so you can rock your beat sheet to the max.
Outline first, then plot beats
Sure, all that detail you so desperately want to put on those index cards is crucial – only it defeats the point of the cards in the first place. You need to write a story outline containing all the details of your story, which you can then summarize into the most succinct couple of sentences for each of your cards.
The cards are meant to represent the scenes, not delineate a breakdown of them. You have all your story’s essential details in the outline. The cards’ purpose is to help you plot the film with the most ease, so you can see your scenes’ placement at a glance without having to read paragraphs of prose.
When you write your outline, be sure it’s in the present tense – and don’t go overboard with detail. Avoid writing any dialogue unless it’s pivotal to understand the scene. Limit each scene to one paragraph, around eight to ten lines. This helps you focus your story for ease of reading and navigating later.
Proper planning seems like lots of work – but actually saves work
Having these different stages to writing your story may seem like climbing Everest doing the crab – but you will soon find the fun in it, we promise! There’s nothing like shuffling your story around with index cards to find the best combination.
Having written a story outline, a beat sheet, and a final script is the best way to know your story like the back of your hand. So when people ask you “What’s your script about?”, you’ll be able to explain the story clearly, and they’ll be begging to watch it.
Taking your story through all these different stages filters all its problems so when you actually sit down and write your masterpiece, it’s freaking flawless!
You’re about to embark on the fun part – the part when you turn all those scrappy notes, your research folder, and whatever else you have into actual scenes. That wall in your room is gonna look mighty pretty when you’re finished with it!
Just beat it!
- Buy some 3×5” index cards and write your beats on them.
- Clear a big space on your wall.
- Beat out your story.
- Remember: keep the summaries MINIMAL.
- Alternative: if you’re more of a web person, use Trello instead.
Write “FADE IN:” in your screenplay document, then write the opening image to your story – just the opening image. Consider:
- Whom do we see first?
- What is the tone?
- What do we want our audience to think?
- What do we want our audience to feel?