Beat Sheet for a novel

Last week I reread To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway and thought it’d be interesting to “beat it out,” as Blake Snyder would say in Save the Cat. Snyder’s beat sheet (available gratis on his website) is a one page synopsis of a movie that lists page numbers for each act break and important plot points in the story arc of a 110 page script.

It looks like this:



1. Opening Image (1): Establish setting, introduce hero

2. Theme Stated (5): What question does the story ask?

3. Set-Up (1-10): Introduce all A Story characters and the “before” world of the hero

4. Catalyst (12): Introduce the problem the hero faces

5. Debate (12-25): The hero doesn’t immediately solve the problem. Rising action

6. Break into Two (25): Shift to middle section.

7. B Story (30): Introduce B story characters

8. Fun and Games (30-55): Wacky hijinks, love story, car chases, etc. Scenes for the trailer.

9. Midpoint (55): Something happens to get the A story momentum going again

10. Bad Guys Close In (55-75): Everything that can go wrong will go wrong

11. All Is Lost (75): It’s over, the hero is never going to make it

12. Dark Night of the Soul (75-85): The hero mopes

13. Break into Three (85): The hero is revived, finds courage or hope or whatever, new day.

14. Finale (85-110): The hero rescues the girl, finds the treasure, saves the day, etc.

15. Final Image (110): Reverse of opening image that demonstrates the hero’s change

Act 1

I wanted to know how the page numbers would line up for a novel which has twice as many pages. If a screenplay breaks into Act Two on page 25, does that mean the novel gets 50 pages?

As it turns out, the answer was: not necessarily. Instead of an exact doubling of each section, I found the Set-up and Finale sections (beginning and end) of a novel are still relatively short. In fact, Hemingway sets up the story pretty well in the first 10 pages. The Beat Sheet indicates 15 pages for the Finale, and Hemingway wrote exactly 15 pages in the final section of To Have and Have Not.

Some things did take longer in the novel. The Break Into Two came at page 57. That’s pretty close to double the 25 pages a screenplay allows for. Where the novel uses up the most pages is during the Fun and Games section, the B story, and because Hemingway was a depressed SOB, the Dark Night of the Soul and All is Lost Moments.

This whole side trip into reading Hemingway and Save the Cat has been my real life B story, and the past week and a half have definitely been Fun and Games. Tomorrow I go to a hotel for a writing retreat, where I will write through the Midpoint and into the second half of my novel.

Hopefully no Bad Guys Close In.

related: Beat Sheet: To Have and Have Not


3 thoughts on “Beat Sheet for a novel”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s