Save the Cat is a book about screenplay writing that many people love to hate. I like it. In an exhortative style with a lot of self-aggrandizing flourishes, it gives straightforward, solid advice about titles, loglines, plotting, and more that you can easily apply to novels.

Save the Cat for NovelsWell, sort of easily. The centerpiece of Save the Cat is the beat sheet, which I’m using for the novel I’m plotting now. I’ve never used a beat sheet before, though I do make an outline and make sure the big moments or turns are happening in the right places.

As an aside: if you’ve never outlined a novel before writing it, you don’t know for sure that it isn’t the best way for you to work. It can feel difficult and uncomfortable, but it saves me a lot of agony later. I recommend trying it at least once. And if you think, “But I want to be open to new ideas as I write it,” well, that will probably happen regardless.

I’m not going to explain here what each beat is, because you should buy the book for that. I’m just going to show you how I’ve adapted it to the novel I’m plotting now.

Here’s Syder’s beat sheet:

Opening Image, p. 1.

Theme Stated, p. 5.

Set-Up, p. 1-10.

Catalyst, p. 12.

Debate, 12-25.

Break Into Two, 25.

B Story, p. 30.

Fun and Games, pp. 30-55.

Midpoint, p. 55.

Bad Guys Close In, pp. 55-75.

All Is Lost, p. 75.

Dark Night of the Soul, pp. 75-85.

Break into Three, p. 85.

Finale, pp. 85-110.

Final Image, p. 110.

So how do I adapt this into a 275-page story? 110 x 2.5 = 275, so that makes it simple, right? Nope.

If I expanded this beat sheet exactly and mathematically, the Catalyst would happen on page 30. This would be way too late for the Catalyst moment in my novel. Everyone would stop reading before then. I want it at the end of Chapter One, so I’m leaving pages 1 – 12 the same as in Snyder’s sheet.

Now, if I made this change and no others, I would have a Debate section that was somewhat longer, proportionally speaking, than in Blake’s beat sheet. I don’t want my girl to take forever to Do the Thing, though that might be appropriate in a really angsty story. I’m putting Break Into Two at p. 60. This also pushes up the B Story a bit.

I ‘m leaving the midpoint in, you know, the middle. This makes my Fun and Games section is a tad longer than in Snyder’s sheet. This is great with me, because in my particular story, this part is going to be pretty entertaining. Everything after the Midpoint stays the same!

SAVE THE CAT Beat Sheet for a 275-page Novel

Opening Image, p. 1

Theme Stated, p. 5

Set-up, pp. 1-10

Catalyst, p. 12

Debate, p. 12-60

Break into Two, p. 60

B Story, p. 72

Fun and Games, p. 72-138

Midpoint, p. 138

Bad Guys Close In, pp. 138-188

All is Lost. p. 188

Dark Night of the Soul. p. 213

Break into Three, p. 213

Finale, pp. 213-275

Final Image, p. 275

You’ll notice that with the Save the Cat beat sheet, the whole third act is one big lump, and you might want to break that down a little more in your own outline. Also, I think the seeds of the B story should almost always be introduced sooner. Depending on your B story and its particular relationship to the main narrative, you might want it fairly developed in Act One.

Now, am I going to follow this outline to the letter? Uh…we’ll see. The writing may take me in a different direction, and I would never stick to a structure for structure’s sake, except when writing sonnets. But it’s a great place to start.