Save the Cat!® Ignores the Trolls
That’s how many pages you have to write a picture book.
Has your anxiety kicked in?
It’s okay. Exhale.
When I first sold the Ignore The Trolls pitch to powerHouse books, I thought to myself, “How am I going to tell a whole story in only 32 pages?” And we’re not talking about a 32-page television script. We’re talking a few sentences on each page. As all writers do, I found a way to curse my good fortune (jokingly, of course). I thought to myself, this is going to be an impossible task.
I stared at the blinking cursor on my computer screen, but I couldn’t type. I needed to beat this story out and I needed some inspiration. So, I did what I always do when I’m stuck on a new project, I pulled out my copy of Save the Cat!
One of my favorite parts of the first book is when Blake explains how every good story follows his beat sheet. EVERY. STORY. It doesn’t matter if it’s a laugh-out-loud comedy, a rock’em sock’em action flick, or a laundry detergent commercial. That’s right, according to Blake, even a 30-second ad spot was able to tell a complete story. And you know what? He was 100% right when he first wrote that sentence and he’s still 100% right to this day.
If the ad agents who make Generic-X Fabric Softener could create a compelling story, surely, I, a professional writer who had written for shows on Nickelodeon, DreamWorks, Disney, and Warner Bros. could turn 32-blank pages into an exciting allegory that tackles internet trolls in a fun and imaginative way. If I beat out these 32 pages like I would a 110-page screenplay, suddenly, the book didn’t seem so Herculean.
Thanks to Blake’s beat sheet, I was able to reverse engineer my story and figure out the proper placement for everything. If we follow Blake’s beat sheet, Act I roughly takes up 25% of your story, Act II – 50%, and Act III – 25%. Using this model, I was able to start putting the pieces of the puzzle into place. If my book was 32 pages, then Act I should end somewhere around page 8. Likewise, the Midpoint would fall around page 16, and ACT III on page 24. Now that I had my big tentpoles, I could start to break down each Act into smaller and smaller bite-size sequences, leading me from one tentpole to the next.
And while everything might have been tweaked or adjusted in the end to fit the needs of my amazing illustrator and editor (Hi, Sandhya and Jordan!), the final picture book landed pretty accurately to my rough beat sheet page count.
With that said, here are some big moments from the beat sheet (up to the Midpoint) so you can see where the pages actually landed in the final book:
Opening Image (1): We are introduced to a magical land where all sorts of mythical creatures roam free. It’s here that we get the first glimpse of the evilest creatures in the land, the trolls.
Set-Up (2-4): Our hero, Tim the Timid, is introduced. His fatal flaw (as Blake notes that all heroes need) is right there in his name. He’s timid—too shy and scared to interact or play with the other kids and creatures at ‘Ye Olde Elementary School.’ The story also introduces the Knights, the coolest and bravest students at school. To be a part of the Knights, one must be a member of the jousting team and Tim would love to be a brave Knight someday.
Catalyst (5): Tryouts for the jousting team are announced. Tim will have his chance to be a Knight!
Debate (5-6): Should Tim sign up? As his name suggests, he is very shy and nervous. He gets a pep talk from his friend who is a Knight. She tells Tim, he just needs to ignore the trolls who will make fun of him when he practices. If he does that, he can secure a spot on the team and become a Knight.
Break into Two (7): Tim starts to practice for the tryouts.
Fun and Games (8-14): As Tim practices, he is mocked by a troll (a stand in for the internet trolls that kids and adults face on a daily basis). The troll makes fun of Tim and takes an embarrassing photo of Tim’s failed jousting attempt. The troll then shares the photo with other kids at Tim’s school, causing Tim to be embarrassed.
Midpoint (15): Tim doesn’t heed his friend’s advice. He engages with the troll and much like online bullies, one troll starts to multiply into many more. Now Tim is surrounded by multiple trolls who all make fun of him.
The lesson: no matter how long of a story you are writing, Blake’s beat sheet is a great place to start to help you structure like a pro!
For more writing tips, follow Jordan on Twitter @jordangersh and get a copy of Ignore The Trolls, now available wherever books are sold.