Structuring Your Novel – Save The Cat! Beat Sheet
This month, I have been primarily focusing on getting Chasing War into a place where I feel confident that over the next few months, I can make it amazing. This sequel has tested me a lot already in the drafting stage. The story is good, but there are much more problems than when I was drafting Chasing Fae. Maybe that’s me though; there may have been just as many problems back then too. 😀
A few weeks ago, I just knew something was wrong with the book. But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what it was. At first, I thought it might be a bunch of missing plot points. Maybe the book needed more substance? But that didn’t quite feel right. Although I needed much more character development, this was a second draft, and something more was missing. I took to Twitter to ask for help. An author, Shawn T. Anderson (@ShawnTWrites) told me about Save The Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody, a book about novel writing. He told me it was a great diagnostic tool for plot problems.
I did some searching and ended up on Samantha Gilbo’s website where I found a great step-by-step guide on how to outline your novel using Brody’s book. It included a free beat sheet that I would highly recommend you grabbing; it helped me visualize the process much more clearly. I don’t want to directly copy over what she has said, so I’ll give you a basic overview and have you read her article on your own.
Act 1: The Beginning
Opening Image – A scene that shows the protagonist in her world before the adventure. It can be an introduction to your main character or if it’s a sequel like my book, a showcasing of the new state your protagonist found themselves in at the end of book 1 before everything changes again.
Setup – Multiple scenes that reveal the protagonist’s current life and the world around them with all of their flaws. Sometimes you may introduce supporting characters or some sort of initial goal for the character to work towards.
Somewhere in there, there will be a scene where your main theme is stated, something that hints at what your protagonist will learn over the course of your book.
Catalyst – A scene where a life-changing event happens to your main character that launches them onto the path of the rest of the story.
Debate – Several scenes where the protagonist debates what to do next.
Break Into Two – A scene where the protagonist decides to accept their new role, embark on their new adventure, and/or otherwise enter upon the point where everything will change.
Act 2A: The Middle (Part 1)
B Story – A scene that introduces a new character or a series of supporting characters that will ultimately help the protagonist on their journey.
Fun and Games – A multitude of scenes where the protagonist either succeeds or fails in a series of events that show off the new world they have been thrust into.
Midpoint – A single scene where the above section either ends in what Gilbo describes as a “false victory” (if the protagonist has been succeeding so far) or a “false defeat” (if the protagonist has been failing so far). Gilbo provides some great examples in her description.
Act 2B: The Middle (Part 2)
Bad Guys Close In – Depending on which direction your midpoint takes, the next several scenes will show an impactful turn in the protagonist’s path. In the situation of a “false victory”, everything will go downhill from there. In the case of a “false defeat”, things will slowly begin to get better and better for your main character. In either choice, the external bad guy (antagonist) or an internal enemy (like fear or a false belief) are closing in.
All is Lost – A scene that takes your main character to their lowest point.
Dark Night of the Soul – Multiple scenes where the protagonist takes time to process everything that has happened so far. This usually brings forth some revelation that ushers them into the story’s finale.
Break Into Three – A scene where the protagonist realizes what they have to do to fix the external story struggles as well as their internal struggles.
Act 3: The End
Finale – The protagonist takes matters into their own hands in this multi-scene segment and solves their dilemmas. Gilbo breaks this out into five separate parts, which I would highly recommend reading about in her article. I found it super helpful.
After reading over this format and filling it out for Chasing War, I found out what my problems were! Turns out, the issues with the draft had to do with structure rather than plot. I ended up making a sheet to rearrange the entire first half of the book. The inciting incident needs to occur earlier, and magical lessons needed to be spread out throughout the story. In the process, I found seven places to add new chapters that would connect subplots better. When I wrote everything out, I instantly felt this wave of relief and honestly, thrill wash over me. I had solved my problem!
All in all, I would highly, highly recommend using this method if you are having problems with plot or structure in your novel. It absolutely revitalized my excitement for this sequel. If you try it out, let me know how it goes!