how to outline your diary novel in a day with save the cat!

i’ve wanted to write a novel ever since i remember learning to read chapter books in 1st grade with some book that had a dolphin next to a cliff on the cover.

after much consideration + deliberation over the last couple of years, i’ve decided i wish to self-publish my novels as my ideal dream career.

so, what is the one thing most important to accomplishing this dream? 

writing the dang book of course!

and how do you write a book?

one scene at a time. 

or at least, following an outline of scenes is how i’m choosing to write this first diary novel of mine.

i’m committing to writing 29,000 words of my first novel first draft in december 2020, and outlining is the first step of my novel-drafting process. 

if i didn’t outline, i feel like i’m way too scatter-brained to stick with the daunting task of writing a whole novel, so i feel as if i must outline in order to break it up into manageable chunks for my own sanity.

what is save the cat!?

originally written as a framework for screenwriters, the “save the cat” book is now adapted for novels as a story structure writers can use to outline their books.

a concept discussed within save the cat’s framework is the mindset of thinking of your book as broken down not into chapters, but into scenes.

and because i’m planning to format my novel in the style of a diary, thinking about a novel in terms of scenes is very beneficial, because one scene will equate to one session of my main character sitting down to record that day’s happenings.

how to outline a diary novel with save the cat!

  1. listen to folklore (or an album of your choice / playlist of your own creation) to brainstorm characters + scenes.
    folklore is specific to my story, but in theory you could write a very unique book of your own using this template. 

    • pick a favorite artist + favorite album and see how many scenes of stories you can brainstorm while you listen. 
      • shoot for 3+ scenes brainstormed per song, because for a 51-scene novel and 17-song album, i’ll need 3 scenes for each song (although just like scenes plugging into the save the cat beat sheet, some songs can be inspiration for a single scene whereas others can inspire more than 5 scenes, for example).

  2. put brainstormed scenes in chronological order they’ll happen for my main character.
    because it’s a diary novel, she’ll write about scenes in the order they occur in her life.

  3. plug scenes into the save the cat! beat sheet outline template from savannah gilbo below.

following savannah gilbo’s steps to outline scenes

here’s the link to savannah gilbo’s excellent blog post with a super helpful graphic she created that i’m following along with.

step 1:  divide total target word count (77k) into three acts. ( + here’s how i chose my target word count.)

  • 1st act = 25% = about 19k words
  • 2nd act = 50% = about 39k words
  • 3rd act = 25% = about 19k words

step 2:  divide each act into scenes.

  • first act (19,000 words / 1,500-word scenes) = about 13 scenes
  • second act (39,000 words / 1,500-word scenes) = about 25 scenes
  • third act (19,000 words / 1,500-word scenes) = about 13 scenes
  • target total scene count = 51 scenes.

step 3:  figure out where the 15 story beats go within the outline below.  (so close to being one beat per song!)

outline of scenes plugged into save the cat! story beats

  1. opening image – 1 scene
    1. “the 1”
  2. theme stated – 1 scene
    1. “cardigan”
  3. setup – 4 scenes inspired by “cardigan” + “the last great american dynasty”
    1. __
    2. “cardigan”
    3. “the last great american dynasty”
    4. __
  4. catalyst – 1 scene
    1. “exile” (feat. the dog)
  5. debate – 5 scenes inspired by “my tears ricochet”
    1. __
    2. __
    3. __
    4. __
    5. __
  6. break into two – 1 scene
    1. “cardigan” again
  7. b story – 1 scene
    1. “the 1” again 
  8. fun and games – 11 scenes based on “exile” + “mirrorball” + “seven”
    1. __
    2. __
    3. __
    4. “exile”
    5. __
    6. “mirrorball”
    7. “seven”
    8. __
    9. __
    10. __
    11. __
  9. midpoint – 1 scene
    1. “august”
  10. bad guys close in – 6 scenes based on “august” + “this is me trying” + “illicit affairs”
    1. __
    2. __
    3. __
    4. __
    5. __
    6. __
  11. all is lost – 1 scene
    1. “hoax”
  12. dark night of the soul – 4 scenes inspired by “hoax”
    1. __
    2. __
    3. __
    4. __
  13. break into three – 1 scene
    1. “epiphany”
  14. finale – 12 scenes split into the following sections:
    1. gathering the team based on “mad woman”
      1. __
      2. __
      3. __
    2. executing the plan based on “invisible string”
      1. __
      2. __
      3. __
    3. the high tower surprise based on “betty”
      1. __
      2. __
    4. dig deep down based on “peace”
      1. __
      2. __
    5. execution of the new plan based on “the lakes”
      1. __
      2. __
  15. final image – 1 scene
    1. “the lakes”
3 steps to outline a diary novel with save the cat!
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to any fellow writers who are following me, i’d love to peek a glimpse of your outlining process if you outline! let’s connect on social media – i’m @dan13llemgarcia on all platforms.

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