CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD is a highly caffeinated twenty-something from Cork, Ireland. She self-published her first book, a travel memoir called Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida, in March 2010, and is currently putting the finishing touches to her first novel. Follow her on Twitter @cathryanhoward, read her blog, Catherine, Caffeinated, or follow the links below.
So I had an idea for a novel.
Well, I had an ending for a novel. An ending and a vague idea of the characters who’d be involved in that ending. I could also see, although it was very, very blurry, how the reader would meet those characters, AKA my opening chapters.
I made a fresh cup of coffee, opened a new Word document and typed ‘Chapter One.’ It was time to start writing my novel. I had the beginning, the end and a cast of characters. What else did I need?
The middle, as it turned out. The other 80,000 words. The part where stuff happens. The whole point of the book. The story itself.
I turned to my reference library of How To Write Books books, but none of them were very helpful in the plot side of things. They told me how to keep my plot organized – Post-It notes, cork-boards, flow charts – but not how to get one in the first place. I need to know how to get from A to B, or rather A to B to C to D to E, and so on.
So instead, I turned to Hollywood.
Writing a movie is all about the plot and to make sure they have one (and that it’s hole free), screenwriters sometimes rely on a beat sheet.
This is your entire story boiled down to 10-15 sentences and divided into three acts, a beginning, a middle (argh – the dreaded middle!) and the end, and it looks something like this:
1. Opening Scene
2. Setting/Introduce Characters/Set-Up
3. Catalyst/Inciting Incident
4. Debate (Characters ask, ‘What to do?’)
5. Act II begins/B Story introduced
6. Midpoint (a false ‘up’ or ‘down’/opposite of the finale)
7. Fun and Games (think the bits of your book that would appear in the trailer, were it a movie)
8. Threat elevated, danger gets closer
9. All is Lost (main character’s lowest point)
- Act III begins
- Finale scene or epilogue.
(This is just my personal beat sheet, and a bare bones version of it. See any of the books below for proper movie-like plotting help.)
I filled in the bits I did know and then took a step back. What was missing? In order to have a coherent and workable plot, I needed to at least touch on all of those beats. So wherever I found a gap, I made a bridge to carry me across it.
Eventually, I got all the way there; I had a plot for my novel.
Now all I needed to do was write it.
Screenwriting books that may interest novelists: Story by Robert McKee, How to Write a Movie in 21 Days by Vicki King, Save the Cat by Blake Synder, Screenplay by Syd Field.