How do the Save the Cat! Beats Translate to Chapters?
Filed under: Save the Cat Tips for Writers Writing Mastery Tagged with: 15 beats chapters outlining plotting save the cat STC Starter Kit (LMAP) writing mastery writing tips
A question I get a lot from novelists following the Save the Cat! plotting method is this: What’s the relationship between beats and chapters? Or in other words, how do the beats break down into chapters and vice versa?
The answer, as is usually the case, is: It depends.
Super helpful, right? 😉 Well, let me see if I can make more so.
I’ve always been a big fan of preaching the “you do you” method of writing chapters. When writers ask me, “How long should a chapter be?” I tell them, “that’s up to you!” As you probably know from being a reader, chapter lengths vary greatly depending on the author. Some authors are known for having very short, snappy chapters, while others choose to have longer, sprawling chapters. It really is a matter of preference.
Which is why the chapter/beat relationship is going to vary depending on how you choose to write your chapters. But, like always, I’m going to tell you what I like to do. As I can really only speak from my own experience. But it’s my hope that in showing you my method, you’ll be able to learn from it and use it to help you craft your own.
I prefer chapters on the shorter side, usually between 4-15 pages. Some can be longer, some shorter, but that’s kind of the average. My book UNREMEMBERED had shorter chapters, my book SKY WITHOUT STARS has longer ones. But the one thing that’s pretty standard across my books is the number of scenes in my chapters. I like to limit each chapter to 1 scene or 2 if the scenes are shorter and easy to string together. What does that mean? It means usually there’s one thing that “happens” in my chapters. Or one thing that the character is trying to achieve and then one outcome to that endeavor. So depending on how long the scene is, it will usually reflect in the chapter length.
In terms of how that breaks down to the beats, well, that also depends on the beats themselves. As you might know from reading SAVE THE CAT! WRITES A NOVEL or taking my WRITE A BESTSELLING NOVEL IN 15 STEPS course (the online STC companion course), that the beats themselves vary in length. Short, single-scene beats like the Catalyst and the All is Lost can be as little as one page!
To show you what I mean, I decided to take one of my middle grade novels, ADDIE BELL’S SHORTCUT TO GROWING UP, and break down the beat/chapter relationship, so we can see it more visually. (Note: I kept the beats short here, for the sake of brevity. The full beat sheet for this novel came with the free Save the Cat! Starter Kit.
Addie Bell’s Shortcut to Growing Up
(Click here to download a PDF version)
So there you have it! How the beats of one of my novels break down into chapters.
I urge you, as you read and analyze stories, to pay attention to how other authors structure their chapters. How many “scenes” are taking place in each chapter? How do the authors choose to end their scenes? With resolutions or cliffhangers? Is there a general flow to the chapters? And how are the beats relating to those chapters?