How I Use “Save the Cat! Writes a Novel” to Outline my Stories

Ever since I first read Jessica Brody’s “Save the Cat! Writes a Novel,” when I was beginning my writing journey, I haven’t found any other story structure theory that was quite as effective for me. While it is quite formulaic, I think the book does a really great job at explaining the major plot points of a traditional story, providing writers with a jumping-off point for their own story creations. The famous “Beat Sheet” which the book supplies can be used as a kind of fill-in-the-blanks for crafting the main “beats” of a story. I’m not going to list these all out for you in detail in this post, but you can go check out the details on Jessica Brody’s site here.

In addition, the book also describes different, common plot arcs that your story might center on, including the “Whydunit,” “Dude with a Problem,” or “Monster in the House” motifs. I particularly liked the exercises at the end of each chapter, which guides you, the writer, to reflect on how you can best utilize the beats and thematic concepts in your story.

When I was first attempting to put the beats into practice and outline my story, I encountered a bit of a problem.

How long should these sections be?

Well, knowing my scenes can be anywhere from 1,000-3,000 words, and that a debut fantasy novel is around 100,000 words (more or less), I averaged the number of scenes that it might take to reach my word count:

100,000 words รท 1,000 words/scene = 100 scenes

100,000 words รท 3,000 words/scene โ‰ˆ 66 scenes

So, averaging that out, I should aim to outline around 83 scenes.

This is an average, a goal, that I’m going to aim for as I prepare these next couple of months.

I took these 83 scenes and divided them up evenly between the beats that “Save the Cat!” provides. The book marks at what percentage of the way through the story each beat should fall. So, here’s my plan:

  • Opening Image (1%): Scene 1
  • Set-Up (1-10%): Scene 1-8
  • Theme Stated (5%): Scene 4
  • Catalyst (10%): Scene 8
  • Debate (10-20%): Scene 9-16
  • Break Into Two (20%): Scene 17
  • B Story (22%): Scene 18
  • Fun & Games (20-50%): Scene 17-40
  • Midpoint (50%): Scene 41
  • Bad Guys Close In (50-75%): Scene 41-61
  • All Is Lost (75%): Scene 62
  • Dark Night of the Soul (75-80%): Scene 62-65
  • Break Into Three (80%): Scene 66
  • Finale (80-99%): Scene 66-82
  • Final Image (99-100%): Scene 83

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but I am a plotter. I need a fully fleshed-out outline to feel prepared and able to sit down and write. I need to know where I’m going and feel that I’ve thought through every decision, every plot point potential, ahead of time. This scene breakdown beat plan might not be helpful for other writers, but it gives me a concrete way to complete my goal! I definitely view it as a guideline, though, and I’m prepared to adjust it as needed.

I hope this helps or inspires you in your writing journey! There’s no one way to write a story, but whatever helps you get words on the page is the right way. ๐Ÿ˜Š

Happy writing!

๐Ÿ“œ ~Fen