Nathan Bransford posted a great piece today about avoiding formulaic storytelling. The Save the Cat! beat sheet to which he refers has been recommended to me by a number of fellow writers, and for good reason: it’s a great way to create a basic novel structure. Here’s an example of what’s on the beat sheet. Let’s say you’re writing a 60,000-word middle-grade or young adult novel. You pull up the beat sheet, key in your target word count, and the sheet calculates some targets for you.
|1||Opening Image||Sets the tone, mood, type, and scope of the project. A “before” snapshot.||1||2||1||600|
|2||Theme Stated||Secondary character poses question or statement to MC that is theme of the movie.||11||2,730|
|3||Set-up||Introduce or hint at every character in A story; plant character tics to be addressed later on.||1||22||1||5,460|
The great thing about it is that it gives you an overall sense of what should happen and when. Obviously (and as Nathan points out), you don’t need to follow this structure rigidly; it’s more like a checklist and set of general guidelines to keep your story on track.
For example, “the Black Moment,” which is our main character’s darkest, lowest point, is slated to hit about two-thirds of the way through the book. The last third is reserved for the solution, climax, and merging of A and B storylines–e.g. the main storyline and the romantic sub-plot finally converge. (more…)