Let me start by saying that not everyone plans out their novels. Some people literally sit down with little more than a glimmer in their eye and start writing. Some people do more, and some people go absolutely bananas outlining their novel as precisely as possible. All of these methods are worthy and valid, and all of them have a variety of benefits and drawbacks. If you don’t already have a process that works well for you, experiment until you hit on something that works.
I use a sort of mutant hybrid of the Save the Cat method and the method Sarra Cannon outlines in her video series How to Plot Your Novel series. Together these two methods hit upon all of the major scenes that the story will hang upon.
Save the Cat outlines 15 story beats that have been found in stories since the beginning of storytelling. Its first iteration was the book Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, but recently a second book specifically for novelists came out titled Save the Cat! Writes a Novel. I highly recommend reading this book if you’re looking for help with the overarching structure of your story. It discusses each story beat in detail and gives examples from well-known literature.
The Sarra Cannon method is, like my own, a mutant hybrid method that pulls together ideas from various sources. I first discovered this method by watching her YouTube series titled How to Plot Your Novel. She has an amazing printable available on her website that pairs with the videos and lists out the authors she was influenced by.
I fill out a Save the Cat beat sheet and the Sarra Cannon printable at the same time and often while listening to the Sarra Cannon videos again. By the time I finish this process, which usually takes days, I have an idea of most of the key scenes in the novel. Sometimes I use the character section of the Sarra Cannon printable to dive more deeply into prominent characters at this time.
Once I have done this, I have the overall structure of the novel sorted out, and I move on the next step in my planning process. Look out next week for how I create a scene by scene outline!