This one was originally intended for screenwriters–especially those who want a decidedly commercial product–but it’s useful for novelists and short story writers alike.
Those of you who were afraid to give beginners something to shoehorn their plot into are really going to hate this one–from Blake Snyder, writer of the fabulous ’90s movie Blank Check among other screenplays–because it goes so far as to include specific wordcounts for each beat–originally page numbers for a screenplay which have been converted for our purposes.
All wordcounts assume a 100,000 word finished novel. Enjoy:
THE BLAKE SNYDER BEAT SHEET
Opening Image (1 – 1,000 words) – A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.
Set-up (1 – 9,100 words) – Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.
Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up at around 4,550 words) – What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth…not until they have some personal experience and context to support it.
Catalyst (at 10,920 words) – The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.
Debate (10,920 – 22,714 words) – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.
Break Into Two [Choosing Act Two] (at 22,714 words) – The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two.
B Story (around 27,300 words) – This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”.
The Promise of the Premise (27,300 – 50,050 words) – This is the fun part of the story. This is when Craig Thompson’s relationship with Raina blooms, when Indiana Jones tries to beat the Nazis to the Lost Ark, when the detective finds the most clues and dodges the most bullets. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.
Midpoint (at 50,050 words) – Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful”. The main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”). But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.
Bad Guys Close In (50,050 – 68,250 words) – Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.
All is Lost (at 68,250 words) – The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born.
Dark Night of the Soul (68,250 – 77,350 words) – The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” – the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.
Break Into Three [Choosing Act Three] (at 77,350 words) – Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.
Finale (77,359 – 99,100 words) – This time around, the main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis!
Final Image (99,100 – 100,000 words) – opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.
If you liked that, you can find a huge list of movies analyzed using this beat sheet on Blake Snyder’s website right here, or you can read the full Save the Cat book. Further, on Jami Gold’s website, there’s a page with worksheets for writers, found here, that also includes a Save the Cat spreadsheet for novels. [Click here to directly download the .xls version.]
I hope that helped. And click here for more writing advice for beginners.