Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet (Novelist Edition)
Length: 90K Words
Conversion Rate: 1pg = 900wds / 5pgs = 4.5Kwds / 25pgs = 22.5Kwds
1. Opening Image (1) (900)
The very first impression: Tone / Mood / Style (Gives the reader a snapshot of WHO the MC is BEFORE we follow them. The MC doesn’t have to be physically introduced but it’s preferable.)
2. Theme Stated (5) (4500)
Somewhere within the first 4.5K words someone (usually NOT the MC) will pose a question or make a statement that clearly states the THEME. This statement is the thematic premise. It’s usually mentioned off-hand in conversation and is not immediately understood by the MC but will have far-reaching implications for the entire story. What is your story ABOUT? What is your MC’s GOAL? Say it somewhere, say it loud, and say it right away within the first 5% of your story!
3. Set-up (1-10) (900 – 9000)
A LOT happens here, so PAY ATTENTION! This is the “make-it-or-break-it” point of your story. You want to be sure to grab the reader’s attention by this point or you risk losing them. How? By now you should have introduced ALL of your “A-List” characters (Protagonist, Antagonist, Sidekick, Mentor, etc.) AND shown what makes them unique to the story. Also, show how/why the MC will need to change in order to reach his GOAL. Give me The Six Things That Need Fixing for the MC. Doesn’t have to be six, but there should be a list of a FEW things he/she needs to solve/fix.
4. Catalyst (12) (10800)
Okay, you just spent the first 10% of your story literally setting it all up for the reader. Now, you’ll spend much less to tear it all down. This is the moment JUST BEFORE the MC decides to GO somewhere or DO something. The Why or What that pushes your MC. A telegram, getting fired, finding out you only have three days to live, etc. What is that simple yet significant moment in your story?
5. Debate (12-25) (10800 – 22500)
Now that your MC has been hit with a critical moment, they must decide (both internally and externally) if they should do whatever it is? Is the GOAL worth it? By now it should be VERY worth it. Also, be sure the time spent debating comes with a very clear question. One of the easiest: Can they do it? What the “it” is, make it interesting and believable for the reader. Make them want to care about the MC enough to continue past the debate point, when they finally do decide to seek out their GOAL. Oh, and if it isn’t obvious at this point, YES, they debate but they always decide to follow their GOAL, otherwise the story dies here…
6. Break into Two (25) (22500)
Ever heard of a crazy little thing called the “inciting incident” or the “hook”? Some people separate them, while others will use them interchangeably. However you decide to define them, you are now one quarter of the way through your book and by this point something BIG ought to be happening. Your MC has decided to seek out their GOAL but something or someone (the Antagonist perhaps?) is standing in their way quite visibly and intrusively. But don’t skimp with the OMG moment here. If you haven’t ramped up your story, wanting to go at it slow and steady, here is THE MOMENT to go BIG or go HOME! This is just the first OMG moment of many so don’t give it all away!
7. B Story (30) (27000)
WOW! That OMG moment was…intense… You need a breather and so does your reader! Give them that much needed breather by introducing your “love story.” And NO, before you think it, this DOES NOT have to be romantic AT ALL! The B Story is usually where you can introduce your “B Characters.” Give your readers someone new and different, and a place where your MC can go to flesh out their GOAL as well as a renewed will to go on. They need to be reminded sometimes and it’s good if it’s by someone new. Here is also a good place to remind the reader of your theme. That first OMG moment was so great we almost forgot. REMIND US and yourself! Oh, and if you really WANT a romantic plotline…yeah…there would be the time to introduce that element.
8. Fun and Games (30-55) (27000 – 49500)
This is where you put that part in your story you’ve been holding onto, waiting for the right moment to unleash it on your reader. Up until this point everything you’ve written has been “something we’ve read before” and that’s okay, it’s inevitable. But the reason that made you write this story, presumably because you had a twist or a surprise or something really cool and amazing that you, yourself, hasn’t ever read in a book before, HERE is where you put THAT part. Basically, have fun with it, too. This goes for drama as well. Just because it’s called ‘fun and games’ doesn’t mean only light-hearted stories should do this. Every drama or horror needs a brief moment of “whoa that was cool,” even if that point might seem a bit creepy, morbid or even depressing.
9. Midpoint (55) (49500)
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the midpoint! You’re halfway there but before you get too excited you’ve got so much more left to do. The closer you get to finishing the more that must be done and figured out. The midpoint is no exception and no time for a breather either. You just revealed that fun and games moment before. You showed your cards to us of what makes YOUR story unique and different in your own way. For a moment we, the reader, was distracted and so was your MC. This distraction can (and must) lead to one of two things: 1) the MC is “up” meaning he/she thinks they’ve won and they are close to getting their goal (whatever that is) but it’s a false positive. Or 2) the MC is “down” and they believe all hope is lost, they’ll NEVER get/reach their goal (whatever that is) but it also is a false negative. Whatever moment you decide to have your MC experiencing at this moment, when they may have let their guard down and because of it think they are better off than they are or worse off, it’s just not true, but they must believe it. Your job is to decide which is better for your story. REMEMBER: Whatever you decide to do at this point (up or down) MUST be the opposite once you reach the “All is Lost” Moment (discussed further below).
10. Bad Guys Close In (55-75) (49500 – 67500)
All this time you’d forgotten the Antagonist haven’t you? One would hope you’ve been using your Antagonist to “influence” in whatever unique way you’ve devised, all of the elements that come before this point. Whenever your MC is distracted or stays away from his/her destination towards their goal, it is the Antagonist that should be responsible for it, whether directly or indirectly. However, now is the moment when the Antagonist should be front and center. Either your MC has been avoiding them, or has been chased relentlessly after the Antagonist. Either way you get to this point, it is when the Antagonist regroups (for whatever reason you have chosen in your story) and comes back to defeat the Protagonist (MC). This is usually the hardest part to write because by now you might feel spent, as if you’ve given all you had to give and you much rather skip right to the All is Lost or even the Finale, but you can’t. This moment is vital to not only showing more character to your MC, but to your Antagonist as well. Think of it as the moment where you show us who he/she really is (their humanity, however screwed up and evil or wrong it might be). Regardless what the MC might believe (up or down) the Antagonist feels defeated or like they have not yet crushed the MC and they regroup for what they anticipate to be the “final blow.”
11. All is Lost (75) (67500)
The moment the MC believes is the end. Remember it should be the opposite of your Midpoint (up or down) but should again carry with it a hint of falsehood. This is that moment for what’s commonly referred to as a “false defeat.” The MC’s life is in shambles and they have no hope left. Here is a BONUS to add that can be fount in a majority of books at this point and I call it “the whiff of death” moment. This is where the MC feel so absolutely lost they have a moment (however brief) where they believe the only solution is to take their own life. But, it doesn’t have to be the MC who dies, it can be someone around them (that moment where you want to kill a character but you want it to MEAN something?) or even mention/bring-up someone who has died. A bit of foreshadowing for what’s to come when the MC and Antagonist face-off in their final showdown!
12. Dark Knight of the Soul (75-85) (67500 – 76500)
Whether your MC is so defeated he/she debates taking their own life. someone in their “group” (friend, lover, etc.) is killed or the mention of someone having died brings up feelings and emotions that must be dealt with. What does the MC do with this information, whatever form it may take? How does the MC feel? This is the darkness right before the dawn. It is the point just before the MC reaches way down deep and pulls out that last, best idea that will save himself/herself and everyone around. But at the moment the idea is nowhere in sight. It’s a low and slow moment that can take one page or fifteen pages but you must have this moment. Why? Because it’s one of the few moments to show a bit of reality in your story, a bit of humanity. Every MC needs to have that “why me?” moment where they can’t believe all they’ve been through, but are reminded of how far they’ve come as well! They can’t just give up now! It’s the internal monologue or the pep talk the MC gives to jump that last hurdle. The part that makes the story mildly believable, even in fantasy, is when the MC is beaten and knows it before he/she learns the lesson.
13. Break Into Three (85) (76500)
And EUREKA, the MC knows now what he/she must doe. They have the solution. All thanks to the B-story characters, their sidekick, or even just themselves. They were battered and bruised and lost, with no hope, and then it came to them in a flash; the answer. All characters converge, all A and B stories collide. This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The moment the strength of the MC builds up to defeat the Antagonist once and for all (or is it once and for all? ie sequel that may continue to use the Antagonist again…). Now, all the MC has to do is implement the idea!
14. Finale (85 – 100) (76500 – 90000)
Act III is finally here! We made it to “the end” where the lessons learned are applied. This is where the “things to fix” about your MC, that you told us about in the very beginning, are mostly or completely fixed (changes slightly if this book is a trilogy or series). This is where the Antagonist is defeated and all is fixed. All problems solved. Don’t skimp here either. Make sure the defeat is a good one and gratifying to the reader who went on this journey with you, don’t sell them short on the defeat.
15. Final Image (100) (90000)
This is where you can do a couple of things: 1. For a stand-alone book this is where you would make your “Final Image” the opposite of your “Opening Image” in order to show the change that occurred within the story. This can be done in trilogies and series as well but is most common to do in the case of a stand-alone. 2) Make this last image or scene you show to the reader be what makes them realize the journey is not yet over, the sequel is coming soon. Give us that “cliffhanger” moment we need where something ELSE happens at the very end or something ELSE is revealed, but we won’t know how the MC overcomes it or handles the news until the next book! How cruel a writer you are to make us wait! 3) Perhaps you have an Epilogue you want to write, but it takes on a character that isn’t your MC, yet it’s integral to the story just told AND one you intend on telling later on? Well, write it down and put it here!
That is it! Your whole story in a nutshell, completely beat out and written down. All the key elements you need to make sure your story will flow, keep the reader invested, and have the best ending you could possibly have. You don’t have to adhere to any of the sections listed above, they are merely guidelines you may use however you wish.