Board with Structure

Moving on, I finished the treatment, sent it to my manager and got the nod to start Really Writing. He wants to see a first draft by Thanksgiving, but I’d like to be a good chunk of the way there before heading off to The Austin Film Festival and Screenwriters’ Conference next month.

Have I ever told you I have (the laughingly-misnomered) Attention Deficit Disorder? I mean really, not like half the writers I know who think they have it, or the Ritalin kids on the covers of Time and Newsweek. As a result of this faulty wiring, I find that without structure, I get scattered and overwhelmed – in writing, as in life.

So, in order to go from treatment to script, I had to swing by Staples for The Board.

For my PB rewrites, I’d stuck index card sized post-its on the closet doors in my home office, but they didn’t stick well to the semi-gloss and flew all over whenever we had to get into the closet. Problem is, there’s no free wall in here, at least no area that’s at least 5’ wide, which is the ideal size for a board, allowing for up to 10 index cards across. Wouldn’t you know, the 5’ trifold corkboard of my dreams either doesn’t exist or just doesn’t exist at Staples, so I went ahead and picked up two 3’ boards.

Placed side-by-side, there’s plenty of room for 8-10 cards per row and I’ve allotted the space at the top for my title and other at-a-glance stuff like character lists and locations. No method’s right for everybody, but The Board is perfect for me. It’s tactile and visual and gives me just enough structure to stay grounded when I need to, but not so much that I can’t fly if I choose.

I wrote up index cards for all the scenes in my treatment, tacked them to The Board and Voila!

I’ve got an overstuffed first act, although a few of those cards can be combined. The first half of Act 2 is a little light, no biggie. But look — after the midpoint, all the bad stuff I envisioned that snowballs in the second half of Act 2, it somehow all wound up in a single whopper of a scene, and that won’t do at all. Act 3 is also a little light, but when I finish filling in the gaping holes in Act 2, I know some of that stuff will spill over into 3.

I’m excited, ‘cause I know what elements of the story I need and want to beef up and now I see very clearly where they need to go.

Isn’t that awesome? Isn’t it the next best thing to having a Fairy Goldman tell you how to solve your story problems?

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About Julie Jaret

Julie Jaret is an American screenwriter with one feature film produced and some others on deck. Her alter-ego needed an outlet, so here we are. Julie lives in the southeast U.S. with her sexy and supportive husband, two funny and beautiful kids, and one big doofus of a dog. She enjoys living vicariously through her fictional characters, often to the point of distraction... (Luckily, her hubby and kids know not to expect dinner at a certain time. Or at all.)

Posted on September 24, 2006, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I know a bunch of writers, and film editors too, who like to use the index card method to organize the structure of their screenplays.

    Key is, whatever works for you.

  2. I use the index card system. Just I need about one hundred cards for one script. I spread them out on the floor. That’s how I often spot redundant scenes or how I can rearrange certain scenes to a more suspensful moment etc.

  3. I can’t figure out what the lines on the boards help fdefine– acts? plot lines? characters?

    I’ve tried the notecard thing and I guess I’m doing it all wrong as none of the glorious benefits I hear described by fans and devotees of same ever really appeared for me. I accept that some people work better with them, but I still prefer doodling on paper rather than collecting and reshuffling cards.

    Whatever gets you to the top of the mountain—that is a workable path

  4. I develop my outline on paper too.

    I’ve tried using scene cards but found them awkward & unnecessary. But all my scripts are linear (so far), so there’s very little shuffling around of events. I just make sure to leave enough room on the paper for additions & keep rewriting until i’m satisfied w/ the story.

    After typing up my outline (w/ sluglines), it probably looks like someone else’s scene cards all laid out. Any shuffling of scenes is done by cutting & pasting on computer.

    I also create my sequences (w/ titles) 1st, then my scenes. So basically, i go from macro to micro.

    I find that starting w/ sequences makes it easier to come up w/ individual scenes b/c a new scene has a definitive *reason for existing*. And since each scene is part of a larger whole (the sequence), it would have little reason to move to another part of the story.

    I tend to think someone who is writing a fractured narrative, or has a lot of characters (storylines), would find cards more useful.

    Like they say, whatever works.

  5. I was just thinking, as I was talking with our editor, that now that we’re in post, it’d be good to have the film, as it was shot, sort of transcribed onto index cards.

    As usual, the thing we shot was not exactly what was written in the final shooting script — because of changes due to time, location, actor, director, whatever concerns — and now as we edit, it’d be good to see it all on a board and try chunking things around that way.

    Silly, I know…

  6. My cards run vertically on my board. Your board tweaks my brain.

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