Story Edit Using The “Save The Cat” Basic Beats

Whatever your writing process, whether you outline or dive straight into prose, there’s one step we all must do – story edit. There are innumerable things to edit in a manuscript, but let’s start with the bones of the story. After all, adding metaphors and sensory descriptions won’t matter if the story is weak.

So bring out that handy Basic Beats chart. Fill it in. Even if you used this to outline your novel, things probably changed when you were writing, so update it.

Just filling in The Basic Beats will reveal missing or flimsy story elements. Bam! You’re already editing!

Once you have all the elements, start asking questions. The first one I usually ask is: “Did this story change the protagonist’s life?” Start to answer by comparing the Opening and the Final Moment…

B6 Chart_Fotor1)   Is the protagonist we meet in the Opening different from the protagonist we see in the Final Moment? i.e. Alcoholic -> Sober. Needy -> Independent. If yes, great! If no…

2)   Is the Catalyst something that will change the protagonist’s life, and in turn change the protagonist? If not, you need a stronger Catalyst. What must happen to bust the protagonist out of her old way of being and into a new way? If the Catalyst is strong but you still don’t have a character change, the problem could be the Set Up…

3)   Have you set up a protagonist that needs to change? If the protagonist starts out perfect, she has nowhere to grow. Every first-rate protagonist has something personal to overcome. Figure out her flaw/issue and you’ll discover how she needs to change. Which leads to Theme…

4)   Do you have a Theme that the protagonist needs to learn in order to identify her flaw/issue and win in the end? If no, take a look at the Dark Night of the Soul… If yes, did they learn it? Why not? The problem might be the B-Story…

5)   Dark Night of the Soul… Why did the protagonist hit rock bottom? What personal flaws prevented her from succeeding in this story? What does she need to learn about herself to get out of this mess? Whatever it is, that’s the Theme.

6)   The B-Story character is the ally who metaphorically slaps the protagonist upside the head and points out how she’s screwing up. If your protagonist doesn’t change, maybe she just needs someone to help her realize she needs to change. Characters can’t change if they’re not forced to face their faults. And if they don’t change themselves, they can’t change their lives, resulting in an unrewarding story.

So using The Basic Beats chart to story edit allows you to easily see how everything connects. More examples… If your Finale falls a little flat, inspect your Set Up and ask yourself if you gave the hero enough problems, and if you addressed those problems in the Finale. If you don’t have a Mid Point, look to the All Is Lost moment and figure out what the opposite of that would be. If you’re missing the Debate element, check out the Set Up for conflicts that would make the protagonist pause before Breaking Into 2.

In conclusion: check the chart, cross-examine every element, and make your story stronger! That’s how to use the Basic Beats to story edit.

Next Up from Heather… Outlining – Method 2: Active Beats. Because the old adage is true: actions speak louder than words.

Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a cartoon screenwriter, YA novelist, small town fugitive, and late-blooming gymnast. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

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