Master Cat! Jessica Brody’s fifth novel, which has been optioned for film by producer Jane Startz (Ella Enchanted, Tuck Everlasting), debuts on July 3. Here Jessica shares both her process and the Beat Sheet she developed before writing. And don’t miss the book trailer at the end of the blog!
Oftentimes I find that sharing finished beat sheets with writers can be misleading — especially if you’re just starting out with a new novel or screenplay and trying to implement the Save the Cat! method to your story for the first time. It can be overwhelming to read a completed beat sheet and think, “Oh crap! I have to come up with ALL of that before I can even start thinking about writing?”
I get this reaction a lot in my Save the Cat! Beat Sheet workshops. My students often feel overwhelmed and as a result, discouraged, by the thought of having to write a fully fleshed-out beat sheet right up front.
But in my experience, I’ve found this task to be nearly impossible. Most of the times, for me, I don’t really figure out what my story is about until I’m nearly done with the first draft and ready to tackle the revision. Because it’s not until I actually start writing the manuscript of my novel that I truly get to know my characters on a personal level. Trying to write a full-fledged beat sheet for your story before you’ve started writing is like committing to marry someone you met on the Internet when all you’ve seen is their online dating profile.
It’s important to note that the majority of beat sheets that are posted on BlakeSnyder.com and that are handed out in workshops are finished beat sheets. Meaning, they were most likely written after the movie or book has been released. So they’re based on a final FINAL draft of the screenplay or manuscript.
And while this can be helpful in studying story, I find that when you’re writing your own masterpiece, it helps to see a version of a beat sheet from before the writer started writing — the original framework of the story that the writer thought he/she wanted to tell, rather than just an analysis of the finished product. That’s why, in my workshops, I like to give my students a glimpse at one of my “before” beat sheets. Or in other words, the beat sheet I started with before I actually started writing the book. So they can see just how bare bones it is.
And I’d like to share the same with you here.
What you’ll notice from the following “before” beat sheet (which is what I try to reassure my students) is that I didn’t have a lot of detail figured out up front. This version actually includes some of the notes I wrote to myself where I needed to fill in holes. I only had a general idea. And that’s okay. The practice of creating a beat sheet to outline your story is used to help guide you. To make sure you’re on the right track. To keep you from going astray. And to make sure you have a compelling character arc. The beat sheet is meant to be a road map, and each beat, a landmark. You’re not meant to have the entire story and all its intricate details mapped out ahead of time. I don’t believe it’s possible.
So when you tackle your own beat sheet, remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect. All beat sheets start off simple and grow from there (as evidenced below). Chances are, it will change as you write anyway.
Preliminary Beat Sheet for 52 Reasons to Hate My Father
Logline: A spoiled teen heiress, famous for her party-girl antics and tabloid headlines, is forced by her ever-absent, billionaire father to take on a different low-wage job every week for a year, if she wants to receive her trust fund.
Genre: Fool Triumphant
Opening Image: Lexington Larrabee has crashed her car after driving drunk. She’s in trouble… yet again. For Lexi there are no consequences for her actions.
Theme Stated: Quote at the beginning of the book: “Fathers be good to your daughters. Daughters will love like you do.” – John Mayer. Lexi is a product of her father. She’ll have to learn to rise above this… instead of blaming her problems on him. She’ll have to learn to love him… despite all the reasons she has to hate him.
Set-Up: Lexi is a screw up. Dad is distant. The Larrabee family you see in the news is not real. Everything is for show. They are filthy rich. Lexi has everything she could ever want… but her life is empty. Frivolous. Also set up that her 18th birthday is approaching when she will get her 25 million dollar trust fund. She thinks this will be her ticket to freedom from her family and most of all… her absent father.
Catalyst: Her dad’s lawyer, Bruce, presents the 52 jobs she’ll have to take on if she wants her trust fund.
Debate: Lexi tries to get out of it. Realizes she can’t. Her father threatens to cut her off is she doesn’t do it.
Break into 2: Lexi accepts her fate and agrees to do the jobs.
B Story: Lexi shows up for her first day of “work” to meet Luke, the annoying (yet kind of cute) college intern that her father assigned to keep tabs on her. They immediately despise each other. Luke had to work for everything he has in life so he hates Lexi for everything she’s been handed on a silver platter. And Lexi hates Luke because he’s an exact replica of her father. But eventually they will learn from each other and fall in love.
Fun and Games: Lexi starts the jobs. Maid service, super market, fast food restaurant, etc. She sucks at all of them and doesn’t try very hard. She does the bare minimum.
Midpoint: False defeat. Her life sucks. Her dad gets engaged to another bimbo. (Still need a stakes are raised moment… maybe she kisses Luke and then has a big fight with him? Or maybe she learns something about her father and why he is the way he is, making her realize there’s a bigger picture to be seen?)
Bad Guys Close In: Lexi meets Rolando and he shows her how to have fun at a job. She meets his family and learns that happiness is not about a job. Rolando suggests that maybe she should prove everyone wrong and be “good” at what she does. Instead of screwing it up. She starts to take the jobs more seriously. Also starts to develop feelings for Luke. Somehow she overhears a plot to destroy her father’s company, but doesn’t really realize what they’re talking about.
All Is Lost: Lexi hits rock bottom. (not sure how yet?) She somehow needs to quit the jobs and give in. Mendi (her ex) shows up and offers to whisk her away from all of this. As she leaves she gets in a huge fight with Luke, who tells her not to go. But she goes anyway.
Dark Night of the Soul: Lexi gets on a plane with Mendi, tries not to think about Luke. On the plane she reads an article about her dad’s upcoming merger that causes her to remember the plot she overheard to take over her dad’s company. Also realizes Mendi really is a jerk!
Break into 3: Lexi gets off the plane, just before it takes off. And vows to do what she never thought she would ever be able to do… save her father’s company (the job that took her father away from her for 18 years).
Finale: Lexi teams up with Luke to concoct the plan to save the company. (What is this plan?)
Final Image: Lexi has reconciled with her father and is together with Luke.
So eventually this simple, incomplete beat sheet turned into a novel that I’m excited to say releases next week! It took a lot of writing and rewriting but this is the roadmap that got me started. It’s all part of the creative process. You have to start somewhere. Think about that next time you sit down to write your own “before” beat sheet and don’t stress!
Also, check out the brand new book trailer for 52 Reason to Hate My Father:
Pick up your copy of the book on July 3!