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Writing Tip: Structure Part Four–Flesh it out!

Last time I broke down Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet from his book Save the Cat. But I only used 15 out of those 40 note cards. So, what’s the deal with those other 25 cards? Well, today, that’s what I’m going to talk about.

Let’s break down the structure into three acts.  The first act should have ten cards. The second should have twenty. And the third act should have ten. The good news is that we’ve already dealt with fifteen of those cards! Woohoo!

Five of those cards were for the first act. Which means we only need FIVE more beats to finish act one. Double woohoo! 😉 So, what about those other five? That’s going to be the rest of the set-up. With those cards will become scenes where you show the reader what the world is like. It’s a good idea to use them to set-up any running gags that you might refer back to and show the reader SIX THINGS THAT NEED FIXING. They can be big or little, but these will be the various problems, or conflicts, that your POV character(s) will face.

For the second act, you’ve already figured out six of the twenty cards. Fourteen left might seem like a TON of cards, but for what you need to accomplish in the second act, those cards will fill up fast. They’ll be the meat of the story. Everything leading up to the climax. The most fun part (for me) is filling up a few cards with “fun and games” type stuff. And of course, the B story—which for me is always the romance. I love me some romance. These cards give you the room to play. Put your characters through the wringer. Watch them make mistakes, and learn and grow from them. You’ll need a bunch of plot points to get you to that climax, so don’t be shy. Fill ‘em up!

The third, and final, act can sometimes seem the hardest. I always end up rushing mine, and then having to go back and flesh it out. Here’s your chance to make yourself not rush it. If you have all the cards set out, and you write a scene per card, you’ll have a full ending. Huzzah!

From filling out your Beat Sheet, you’ve figured out three of the ten. That leaves seven cards for you to play with. Again, that might seem like a lot, but you’re going to need them to make sure you’ve not left any loose ends hanging. Make sure that you’ve FIXED all of the SIX THINGS! Wrap up everything that you can. If your book is part of a series, you’ll leave a few questions unanswered, and that’s okay, but all major plot lines should be wrapped up before you get to the FINAL IMAGE.

Have you filled out all forty cards? Yes! Go you! You’re amazing!

Now, what if you’ve filled them all and you need more? Does that mean you can’t write more scenes? Not at all. Remember that Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat is a screenwriting structure. Screenplays are significantly shorter than novels. One page of screenplay is about a minute on film. So, if you’re writing a romantic comedy, you have about ninety pages, which would turn into a ninety minute film. No one wants to watch a three hour Rom-Com. So, screenwriters are limited to number of scenes. Forty scenes is about average for a movie. Sure, some have less and others more, but again, it’s an average.

But we’re not writing screenplays. We’re writing books. (Go us!) It doesn’t really matter how many scenes we need. So if your story needs more note cards to get everything told, then by all means, add more note cards. Just try to keep them proportional in the acts. If you set more stuff up in act one, then you’ll need more in act two to work through all of those points, and more in act three to wrap them all up.

What if you still have cards left over? Then you might be lacking a little meat on your story-bones. If you can’t figure out what you’re lacking, then I say start writing. Eh, a little cheating won’t kill ya. As long as you keep looking back at your cards, it’ll become apparent where you’re lacking some stuff. When you find those places, take a moment to fill out a card so that you can keep track of your story as you write. It’ll make revisions that much easier.

Now, this is not the end all be all of structure. Other people use different forms, but this is my favorite. I’m reading another structure book called Story Engineering, and I’ll be posting about that after I’m done. But for now, Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet is my go to.

Any questions? Let me know in the comments below!



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