Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Saving the Cat

By Ronda Simmons

Save The Cat! is a book written in 2005 by Blake Snyder, a screenwriter who determined  almost every story is composed of the same essential elements, or "beats."

Similar in breakdown to the three-act structure touted by other writers, Snyder offers a simpler description and application. This is less about formula and more about finding the rhythm of your particular drummer.

The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet, aka BS2, is a Hollywood standard that can be applied at any fiction.

The title refers the moment, usually early in a story when the protagonist does something, like saving a cat, or some other kind act, that lets the reader/viewer know that he or she is a good person. Kevin's save the cat moment in Home Alone does not come until later in the movie when he encourages his elderly neighbor to made amends with his son.

The Beats

Snyder determined every story has 15 essential beats. Here they are as applied to a traditional three-act story:


1. Opening Image - this sets the tone for the story

2. Theme Stated - the main idea, i. e., "love is all you need," 

3. Set-up - background for the story

4. Catalyst - the thing that sets the story in motion

5. Debate - choices for the protagonist, "should I stay or should I go?"

6. Break Into (Act) Two - making the decision to leave the old, enter the new

7. B Story - the secondary plotline, often the "love interest."

8. Fun and Games - when the main character explores the new world

9. Midpoint - false defeat or false victory, the A story, and B Story cross

10. Bad Guys Close In - the villains regroup and push forward

11. All is Lost - a mirror of the midpoint, a false defeat, often something or someone dies

12. Dark Night of the Soul - the main character hits bottom

13. Break into (Act) Three - the eureka moment, often inspired by the B story, the main character chooses to try again

14. Finale - solve the problem, overcome the villains, save the world

15. Final Image - a mirror of the opening image

The Beat Sheet Applied

I've outlined one of my favorite movies, Home Alone, using a beat sheet, see if you agree with my analysis.

1. Opening Image - Big house, busy and chaotic. It's Christmas

2. Theme Stated - "You'd feel pretty sad if you woke up in the morning and didn't have a family."
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3. Set-up - The fake cop with the gold tooth is casing the neighborhood, Kevin is ignored and yet blamed for everything. He feels left out and throws a tantrum.

4. Catalyst - Kevin is sent to spend the night alone in the attic. In the chaos that ensues the next morning when the power had gone out, the rest of the family leaves for the airport, Kevin is left HOME ALONE.

5. Debate - Kevin decides to make the best of the situation.

6. Break Into (Act) Two - When Kevin decides not to be scared anymore because he's "the man of the house."

7. B Story - Kevin's mom trying to get back home to him.

8. Fun and Games - Kevin acting more responsible, buying groceries, noticing the suspicious activity in his neighborhood. Executes the plan to save his home from the bandits, orders a pizza, does laundry, etc.

9. Midpoint - A low point. Kevin realizes that he misses his family.

Can you write the beat sheet for the sequel?
10. Bad Guys Close In -The robbers target Kevin's house

11. All is Lost - The "Wet Bandits" have captured Kevin!

12. Dark Night of the Soul - Kevin, with help from his scary neighbor, has defeated the bad guys but realizes that he misses his family and becomes depressed

13. Break into (Act) Three - Kevin decides to celebrate Christmas alone and decorates the house.

14. Finale - His Mom (and the rest of the family) comes home!

15. Final Image - Kevin has realized the importance of family, but Kevin's brother yelling at him about his room and Kevin's famous shocked face tell us that things haven't changed all that much.

Can Save the Cat help you?

When you are struggling with plot, and perhaps see how your outline matches up with the Beat Sheet. Save the Cat might just Save the Day!

Here are some websites for more information on Story Beats:

Save the Cat

Beat Sheet Calculator

Jami Gold's Save the Cat Beat Sheet

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