February 14, 2012

How to Revise for Structure, Part Two

Cover image of Larry Brooks's Story Engineering

Last time, we discussed Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat craft book and how we can use his writing tools to revise our work.  His beat sheet points out when story events (beats) should occur in a screenplay, and most of his advice applies to all forms of fiction writing.

Whether we dig into the structure of our stories during advance plotting or before post-draft revisions, understanding the big picture of how stories are supposed to flow improves our writing.  So even though my pantsed (i.e., written by the seat of my pants) novel passed the Save the Cat beat sheet test, I wanted to analyze my story from a different perspective.   After all, it’s better to know if a scene should be deleted before I spend time editing it.

Why yes, I’m a perfectionist, how’d you guess?  *smile*

But the truth is that I discovered I loved using the Save the Cat beat sheet to get an overview of my story before starting revisions.  So I found another method for doing this high level analysis.  I even made myself do math.  *shudder*

How to Use the Story Engineering Structure for Revisions

This time, let’s talk about Story Engineering by Larry Brooks.  I first heard of Larry and his approach to story structure when I came across his storyfix blog a couple years ago.

He explains in clear language what turning points are, when they’re supposed to occur in a story, and what they’re supposed to accomplish.  He also brilliantly points out how to use “pinch points” to prevent a sagging middle.  I was thrilled to learn the tips from his blog are now available in book form with Story Engineering.  (And a thank you shout-out to Kerry Meacham and Sonia Medeiros for my copy.)

In the comments of my last post, Julie Glover mentioned using Story Engineering.  Reminded of Larry’s story structure tips, I spent this weekend reviewing the information and…  *dun dun dun*

The Story Engineering Beat Sheet

I made a spreadsheet:

(click for larger image)

That’s right.  I dealt with my dislike of math and copied off of Elizabeth Davis to come up with a spreadsheet based on the story structure Larry Brooks describes in Story Engineering.  Download a copy of my spreadsheet for yourself here:

Story Structure Spreadsheet – Adapted from Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering (2007 .xlsx version)
(Click here for the Excel 2003 .xls version.)

The “Frankenstein” Master Beat Sheet

And then…  *sigh*  Because I just can’t help myself, I decided to see what it would look like to combine Elizabeth’s Save the Cat spreadsheet and this Story Engineering spreadsheet.  (Note: Elizabeth’s website has had major issues lately, so if the link above doesn’t work, you can find the .xls version of her STC beat sheet mirrored here and the .xlsx version of her STC beat sheet mirrored here.)

Behold, the Frankenstein of story-structure-overview-planning-plotting-revising-analysis spreadsheets:

(Click to view full size)

Maybe I’m the only one crazy enough to want to dig into my story at this level.  But maybe I’m not.  So for those who want to get the complete Save the Cat/Story Engineering overview of their work, I give you:

Master Spreadsheet – Story Structure and Beat Sheet (2007 .xlsx version)
(Click here for the Excel 2003 version.)

Disclaimers to Using the Master Beat Sheet

You’ll notice the screenplay structure of Save the Cat has a shorter introduction and conclusion than the geared-toward-novels structure of Story Engineering (that is, STC‘s Act One is shorter than SE‘s Part One).  However, it’s more important to make sure events are happening in the correct order and increasing tension and stakes than to make the page numbers work out perfectly.

In my pantsed novel, the specified page for the Story Engineering plot points and pinch points fell during the correct scene, and I’m calling that close enough.  (See? I’m not a hopeless perfectionist. *snicker*)

Refer to my previous post for more tips and suggestions on how these spreadsheets can help us identify pacing issues, theme ideas, and whether scenes are in the correct order.

Now before anyone makes snarky comments about how I was *cough* procrastinating with all that spreadsheet nonsense, let me confirm that once I filled in the numbers for my pantsed novel and made sure I didn’t have any structural errors, I moved on to actual revising.  I’m up to chapter three.  So there.  *smile*

Have you studied Larry Brooks’s approach to story structure?  Does this spreadsheet sound helpful?  Do you prefer Larry’s Story Engineering explanations or Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat approach, or do you like both of them?  Is the Master Spreadsheet awesome or overkill?  *whispers*  Do you ever have trouble moving from the “planning” stage to the “doing” stage?

P.S. Are you new to beat sheets? Check out my Beat Sheets 101 post, and check out all my worksheets for writers here.

P.P.S. Do you use the Master Beat Sheet and draft with Scrivener? Don’t miss my Master Beat Sheet Scrivener template!

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Comments — What do you think?

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Janea S.

Thanks so much for these ideas! I played around with Save the Cat after your last post, and really look forward to adding in these new ideas. I’ve found them very helpful!

Susan Sipal

OMG, Jami! You’re incredible. Thanks so much for compiling these and sharing with us all. 🙂

Kerry Meacham

Thanks for the shout-out. Two of my favorite writing books, and you are the Mack Daddy….humm…I guess Mack Mamma, when it comes to the spreadsheet awesomeness. I downloaded last week’s, and I am definitely downloading this one. You rock.

Gene Lempp

Wow, Jami, that is awesome! I loaded up last weeks and tossed a pantsed short into it and found I was fairly close on structure, which also showed me where I needed to tweak things (perfectionist association card number 14XJ…).

I can’t wait to try out the above but must hang my head in shame for a moment (only A moment). I tried to merge the two last year but never thought of using a spreadsheet *palmhead* Brilliant idea. Thanks for putting this together. Great resource!

Melinda Collins

Have I told you lately how WICKEDLY AWESOME you are!!! I deal with spreadsheets soooo much at my day job (they call me *master*) that by the time I get home, I honestly don’t feel like having fun with Excel and creating one for my writing. Secret: It was actually on my to-do list to re-vamp Elizabeth’s spreadsheet from last week into something geared more towards a fiction novel.

But alas, you have done it! 🙂

Thank you, thank you, thank you! *bows* 😉

Julie Glover

That spreadsheet is great! I downloaded it immediately. Thanks, Jami. I did a post sometime ago which includes the flow chart I developed from Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering: That has helped me a lot in checking my pacing and plotting my future WIPs. Thanks for sharing your stuff. Best wishes with your revisions.

Christy Farmer

I love the spreadsheet, Jami! I think the master spreadsheet is awesome! Thank you so much for sharing this! 🙂

Angela Ackerman

Holy chocolate-dipped bacon! This is awesome. So much hard work on your part–thanks for sharing the spreadsheet. And looks like I need to get Larry Brook’s book now, too!

Have you read Writing Screenplays that Sell bu Michael Hauge? That one is really good too. 🙂

Angela Quarles

I love spreadsheets, so thank you!! I’ll have to put Story Engineering on my TBR list

Kris Asselin

This is great–thank you! Huge help!

Joyce Shor Johnson

This is an amazing and incredibly helpful post! The spreadsheet is a gift, Thank you!

Sonia G Medeiros

I love your spreadsheets, Jami! And so glad Story Engineering was helpful. I love that books so much, I feel like one of those street corner preachers. “Have you heard the story structure news? Has your writing been saved?” LOL

Rachel Funk Heller

Jami! I just discovered “Save the Cat” and am so glad you blogged about it. Have you tried the software? I really love it. I’m a big “Hero’s Journey” fan and I like how Blake streamlined the process. I apply all of this after I “pants” the first draft. It is so much fun wasting this kind of time.


[…] you’re done that draft, Jami Gold shares how to revise for story structure. Revision is usually where you start layering nuances into your work. Tim Kane gives tips on how to […]

Nancy. S. Thompson

Thanks for this info & most especially, for sharing all the hard work & your spreadsheets. I’m gonna dive in for a closer look!


[…] How To Revise for Structure Part II from Jami Gold. Excellent downloadable resources! […]


Isn’t the Hook and Inciting Incident the same thing…?



You are terrific. I LOVE the Save the Cat download and tried to download the two referenced in this post and they came out garbled? Did I do something wrong on my end?


Joanna Aislinn

Feel like i’ve been stuck in planning forever, Jami. This spreadsheet looks to be just what I need. Thanks for creating and sharing it!


[…] And if you like Larry Brooks’s (of Storyfix) approach to plot structure, check out the Story Engineering beat sheet. Pin ItCheck out these related […]

Sierra Godfrey

Jami, this post and all the other plotting and Save the Cat posts are totally fabulous–I just found them all tonight from a link on Twitter. I am in love with your Frankenstein Excel sheet, as I’ve been using STC beat sheets for my last two stories and love them. I will definitely pick up a copy of Storyfix. One question, in your Excel sheet the Catalyst (STC) and the Inciting Event (Storyfix) look like the same thing to me, and I’ve always thought they meant the same thing. What do you think?


[…] Rather brilliantly, the writer who put this together has also made it available as an Excel template you can download here. […]


[…] that’s a lot of information. But after the “fun” I had creating the Story Engineering spreadsheet based off Larry Brooks’s work, I decided to create another spreadsheet to go with Michael Hauge’s teachings. (Yes, […]

Kern Windwraith

Jami, you are the bomb! I’ve futzed around with spreadsheets a couple of times to try and organize my WIPs, but the results have been spectacularly “meh.” Your spreadsheets are lifesavers! (Or story-savers at the very least.)

I’ve read (and love) Larry’s book, and the Story Structure spreadsheet you’ve created is a terrific synthesis of his approach to story telling. I’ve downloaded it and and started filling it in, and man, is this thing going to save my NaNoWriMo bacon this year!


[…] my pantser tendencies, I’ve done a lot of analysis on Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering, and Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure. This class will pull all that […]

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