Today I’m going to share one of my all-time favorite plotting tools: The Scene Card Worksheet from what I consider one of the best writing how-to resources out there, Lisa Cron’s Story Genius.
Check out her incredible worksheet:
You know what truly captured my attention when I first saw this worksheet? It’s so simple. Many worksheets tackle an entire plot line at once, or have fifteen steps for each scene. This is the first worksheet that I’ve considered workable for any short story, chapter, or novel, no matter the genre or age range. To this day, it’s my most frequented tool in my writing tool box.
Before I go on, here’s a quick breakdown of Lisa’s terminology.
“Alpha Point” is Lisa Cron’s term for why a scene exists and what it needs to accomplish. In a nutshell, it’s what happens on the page, also known as the main plot point.
“The third rail” is Lisa’s equivalent to what I call “the heart of story”. It’s the reason the events happening on the page matter personally to a protagonist, and how each specific event changes or enforces their world view.
Cause and effect. This point is pretty straight forward, right? Something happens, and it makes something else happen. But when we start digging into a draft, it becomes obvious that there can’t be explosions for no reason. Everything that happens must relate to your character’s internal struggle, directly impacting what they want (or think the want) and what they need. A plot has to get in your character’s way, keeping them from their ultimate goal. The question is, is each scene doing what it needs to do? The answer is often found by examining these four questions:
- What happens?
- What’s the consequence?
- Why does it matter?
- What does the character realize because of this event?
- And so, what happens next, and why did this scene lead the character to that decision ?
The first time I used this worksheet, I’d been working on my opening chapter for weeks. Even though I had fire, weapons, and an interesting lead, the events were falling flat. Once I took a look at the bottom of this worksheet, the third rail, I immediately realized my blunder. Yes, I had a fire. Yes, I had cool weapons and character with a cool job. But why did this fire, on this day, matter to this lead? As soon as I broke down the scene into this worksheet, I found my weak point and had the chapter polished by the end of day.
This worksheet helps me avoid hitting the “delete” button far more frequently. It saves time, lessens stress, and makes the drafting process, well, not easy, but easier.
I can’t recommend this method enough. But remember, if it doesn’t work for you, there’s a method out there for you somewhere.