May 19, 2012

Outlining Part 2--How to Beat Out Your Novel

By Bonnie Harris
So, my journey to figure out how to outline continues. If you missed my intro to this journey, you should check it out, as well as Part 1.
This particular process I learned about at the LDStorymakers conference this past May. Elena Johnson shared how she’s adapted the Blake Snyder method for screenwriting to writing novels. I thoroughly enjoyed this class and learned some very valuable points. Here are my notes, (hopefully they make sense) as well as some links that may help.
Elana Johnson
Beat Out Your Novel (Adapt to how you write)
write the book out, then do the outline or beat it out
do a mix
For this presentation, I read, pored over, and loved SAVE THE CAT and SAVE THE CAT STRIKES BACK both by Blake Snyder. There is a third book in the series, SAVE THE CAT! GOES TO THE MOVIES, which I have not read as it seemed more for screenplays and less for general structure and writing.
That’s right. Structure. Seems strange in this class that’s sort of against outlining… But structure is necessary!
You can only take so much weirdness at one time. 
Three Acts, Fifteen Beats, One Board
  • the world as your hero knows it (normal)
  • theme stated—choices, careful what you wish for
  • a catalyst pushes us into Act 2, MC freely chooses to move to Act 2
  • Antithesis to Act 1—the normal world turned upside down

Start with 2
Opening Image
starting point
“before” snapshot
intro MC
Closing Image
proof that change has occurred
give yourself a destination
Opening and closing should be OPPOSITES
a plus and a minus
showing dramatic change from beg to end
Break into 2
moment we leave the old world
must be DISTINCT
hero must decide
an “up” or a “down”, false
stakes are RAISED
no turning back
pace increases
Break into 3
use B story characters
fusion of B story and hero finding a solution
synthesis at hand
Acts should stay the same length, Act 1 (25%, 50%, 25%)
Opening image 
Theme state
Break into 2
1. Opening Image (1): the normal world, characters
2. Theme Stated (15):
3. Set-Up (1-30): hook the reader to continue, can use relationships, worlds, events, plant flaws in characters that will change @ end, intro most characters in A story,
4. Catalyst (36): the world explodes, something that shows their different, forces characters to change, not good news, what leads the hero to happiness
5. Debate (36-75): do I go? do I stay? fear of the unknown
6. Break into Two (75)
7. B Story (90): love story, get to know person, doesn’t always have to be romance, relationship story—emotional story, provides a breather
8. Fun and Games (90-165): promise of a premise, get to see what you promised readers, must deliver
9. Midpoint (165): false up or down where they succeed or collapse, answer question are you real hero or fake hero? not one scene—many pages
10. Bad Guys Close In (165-225): bad guys regroup and send in the forces, doubt desinagrates bad guys team
11. All Is Lost (225): false defeat, looks like they’ve lost, something about dying, whiff of death, takes away mentors, could be secondary characters
12. Dark Night of the Soul (225-255): dark before the dawn, in the moment they have no idea what to do, utter defeat
13. Break into Three (255): blending of two worlds, new way of thinking, new hero, new person
14. Finale (255-330): Gathering the team—he’s alone, gather the team, break him out, rallying of allies, amend things, usually a plan
Executing the plan—they might actually do this
High Tower Surprise—finds out the bad guys knew he was coming, no princess in tower, reason the plan false, plan may actually be a trap, whatever hero has done may not be enough
Dig deep down—the whole plan is revealed, hero gets new plan, not exactly what reader expects, no back-up, go into new world with faith unseen
Execute the new plan—the answer comes from a place that we all hope exists, hero trusts themselves enough to use what we hoped was there, then he wins
15. Final Image (330): hero in new world, opposite of beginning
  1. Beat Sheet—can switch with write novel (good driving destination)
  2. Write novel
  3. Board it out—flip over paper
  4. Revise
Stories that have all fifteen beats are what we want to keep reading and watching
The 15 beats can use for synopsis
Act 1 can be used for query letter
*Adapted for novels from by Elana Johnson.

Happy Outlining & Writing! :)


  1. Thanks, Bonnie! Wow. That's a lot of information! Great post!

  2. Thanks for the fantastic notes! Save the Cat! is a book I own and I've been trying to adapt it to novel writing. When I heard Elana taught a class based on the book, I was so disappointed that I had missed it. But now I can study these notes!

  3. I LOVE practical information. Thx.

  4. Are the numbers in parentheses in THE BLAKE SNYDER BEAT SHEET page numbers in the book or word counts?

  5. Continued thought: Or are they page numbers in the project?

  6. Marsha,
    They are estimated page numbers for your project. Of course each genre is slightly different, but she said that it should basically be Act one 25% of your book, Act two 50% and Act three 25%.

  7. Thanks, Bonnie. That makes sense. :-)

  8. Bonnie I really appreciate you sharing this informaition in such a useful form. It is something I have been trying to work on and internalize. Your blogs help.


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