How to Use Scene Cards as a Story Map Tool for Your Screenplay

Scene cards are a great way to visualize your script before writing it. Many screenwriters swear by this technique. Scene cards are similar to an outline or beat sheet – only on index cards. 

What is the Purpose of Scene Cards?

Scene cards are an organizational tool to guide you in creating the best possible scenes and storyline for your screenplay. To get the most use out of your scene cards they should answer the following questions:

  • Does the scene location work for the story?
  • Does the scene have action?
  • Does the scene have conflict?
  • Does the scene advance the dramatic arc of the story?
  • Does the scene fit into a sequence?
  • Does the scene include the necessary characters?

Placed together on a board, your scene cards will also help you:

  • Quickly pinpoint, and “see”, where your major elements are “falling” or appearing in your screenplay.
  • Determine where more scenes are required and less are needed (for example, is Act II too “light” with scenes and Act III too “heavy”?)
  • See where storylines are intercepting, character arcs are “hitting”, and the effectiveness of your setup and payoff placement.

What is Included on Each Scene Card?

  • The scene slugline (INT. CAFÉ – DAY).
  • Characters who appear in the scene.
  • The significant event or action that occurs in the scene.
  • The basic conflicts of the scene (who is in conflict, what does that person want at the beginning of the scene, what is the outcome at the end of the scene).

You might also include the intended emotional impact the scene has on the audience (fear, curiosity, laughter) and the major elements (Inciting Incident, Climax, MidPoint, etc.) on the cards where those specific events occur.

Some writers choose to color-code their scene cards, denoting everything from story points that convey theme, represent character arcs and B and C story lines, and highlight recurring symbols. 

Include whichever elements will make it easier for you to visualize and write your script.

If you want to try this method, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Get yourself a bunch of index cards, push-pins, some narrow masking tape, markers, and an extra-large corkboard.
  1. Hang your corkboard on the wall and use the masking tape to divide the corkboard into four equal rows. The four rows represent: Act I, First Half of Act II, Second Half of Act II, and Act III.
  1. Use the index cards to write out each scene of your script, using as much or as little information as you wish to suit your specific writing needs. (Some software programs, such as Movie Magic Screenwriter, have a built-in scene card function you can use to create your index cards).
  1. Place the index cards in the appropriate row and location on the cork board.
  1. Stand back, take in your masterpiece and determine if everything is in the right place.