What is the Save the Cat Story Structure?
The Save the Cat Beat Sheet is a term used to describe the framework popularized by novelist Blake Snyder that writers can use to craft stories with a unique structure and effective story pacing. Snyder’s beat sheet uses fifteen “beats” (or steps) to lay out an entire narrative arc, from the introduction of characters to the resolution.
Each beat has descriptive tasks to be completed at each step, allowing writers to map out their narrative and create a satisfying movie-going experience. By using the beats, writers can easily flow from one scene and plot point to another, resulting in a fulfilling story with twists and turns!
This narrative arc allows writers to craft plots that resonate with readers in meaningful ways and creates an easy-to-follow outline for creative projects.
Who is Blake Snyder?
Blake Snyder is a noted American screenwriter, lecturer, and author. His famous book Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need has been praised for its insight into Hollywood scriptwriting. Starting out as a freelance journalist, Snyder eventually made a name for himself in the film industry after scripting such films as Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992) and Blank Check (1994).
He then focused more on writing books, lecturing, and teaching aspiring screenwriters his approach to writing. Snyder passed away in 2009, but his legacy lives on as writers worldwide continue to learn from his works today.
Save the Cat Explained:
The Save the Cat Structure breaks down into 15 beats or plot points that map out a story from start to finish. As a working screenwriter, Snyder created the structure to construct movie scripts that were widely popular with audiences and movie studios.
The structure focuses on the moment a protagonist wins over an audience’s sympathy by acting courageous or kind, usually within the first fifteen pages of a script. This framing device allows for a more engaging narrative and encourages readers to invest more emotionally in the story.
The goal of Save the Cat is to create hero-focused stories that evoke emotion and create memorable highlights throughout the entire script. Most importantly, it creates an opportunity for audiences to connect with characters from different backgrounds and walks of life, further deepening their engagement with the story.
What is the Save the Cat Beat Sheet?
The Save the Cat beat sheet comprises fifteen key plot points and includes story beats ranging from The Setup to the Finale. It provides writers with a systematic approach to creating a screenplay by breaking down the storytelling process into foolproof steps. Using this beat sheet, any aspiring writer can craft and structure an enthralling story that effectively leads to a satisfying conclusion. Now, let’s define each plot point.
Save the Cat Plot Points
This beat is a snapshot of the protagonist- an establishing scene that tells the viewer as much as possible about the character.
In the opening scenes of your story, establish a theme for your character’s arc. A theme is a life lesson that viewers or readers can take from your story. Themes are usually communicated through a positive change in a character brought about by the plot’s events.
The setup establishes what your character has, like friends, family, or a fancy job, and what they lack. Here the audience gets a glimpse of your hero’s flaw and what they will shed to fulfill their journey. You can also set up motivation by showing what your characters want from life that they don’t already have.
However, what a character needs and wants- read more about the difference here.
The catalyst is the event that completely disrupts your character’s ordinary life. They will spend the rest of the story overcoming the disruption caused by the catalyst. This plot point is nothing new and is usually called the Inciting Incident.
Here we show the character’s internal conflict as they struggle with what to do next. Often this scene involves a close friend or confidant of the hero. The hero may receive advice they are unwilling to take but ultimately must follow. This beat maps with the “refusal of the call” in the hero’s journey closely.
Break into Two
At this point, the hero must rise to face a new challenge or resolves to accomplish a goal. This new objective drives the hero’s actions throughout most of the second act.
Early in the second act, the hero meets a new character. This new character can be a love interest, a new friend, or an unlikely mentor. The point of this character is to aid the hero in their journey.
Fun and Games
Another name for this plot point is rising action, where the hero tries to accomplish their goal over a series of attempts. The hero may experience minor success and failure as they strive toward their objective.
This plot point is also called the promise of the premise. In other words, the image plastered all over the movie poster should happen here. The poster for Back to the Future shows Marty McFly in the front seat of the Delorean, and in act II of the movie, all of the time hijinks begin.
At the midpoint, the hero should encounter either a false victory or a false defeat. In a false victory, the hero believes they have achieved their goal until some twist of fate steals all hope.
In a false defeat, the hero will suffer an actual defeat, but they will gain something of value from the loss. This thing of value could be physical, like a weapon, or metaphorical, like hope or resolve.
With either option, your hero will suffer defeat at the midpoint of their saga.
Bad Guys Close In
The villains of your story, whether they are the character’s inner demon or an actual demon will corner your hero. The protagonist will suffer a true catastrophe that seems impossible to recover from. This disaster could also be a moment where neutral characters gang up on your hero, maybe after the hero has made a severe mistake.
All is Lost
Death comes to your hero. This death could be the actual death of another character they hold dear or the symbolic end of a team, institution, spirit, or whatever.
Dark Night of the Soul
In the Dark Night of the Soul, the character has a moment of reflection. Here, a character is open to real change and can cast away their old self. Often we see the hero embrace the theme or lesson they learned through the plot.
Break into Three
This beat is about epiphany, transformation, or self-actualization. The hero realizes what it will take to solve the problem that has hounded them since the inciting incident. The character may overcome the flaw that has held them back. This is the point when the protagonist transforms into a true hero
The hero fulfills their fate. In most stories, this means the bad guys are beaten, families and friends reunite, and the world is finally made right.
In a tragedy, the hero is done in by their flaws, a lie, or a combination of both. A tragic story will usually end with an ironic and sad fate for the hero.
The Final image is the narrative resolution to the image you created in scene one. The final image is a snapshot of how your hero ends their journey.
Save the Cat Screenplay Example:
Zootopia & Save the Cat
Opening Image- The film opens with a school play where the protagonist, Judy Hopps, is attacked by a predator, establishing the film’s primary conflict. After the play, Judy fights her bully, a fox named Gideon. The fox scratches Judy and taunts her for wanting to be a police officer. Even though there are no rabbits in the police, Judy claims she will be the first.
Theme Stated- Before her fight, Judy’s father encourages her to give up on her dream of becoming a cop. He says the key to happiness is settling for less than your dreams. Gideon repeats this message telling Judy she’ll never be anything but a dumb, carrot-farming bunny. Judy responds, “I don’t know when to quit.”
Setup- We flash forward to Judy as a young adult attending the police academy. At first, she is weak and unable to finish most of the grueling physical tests, but she practices. Taking advantage of her determination, agility, and speed, Judy graduates at the top of her class. The audience sees that Judy is determined and resourceful.
The Zootopia Police Department hires her. As she departs from her hometown, Bunnyburrow, her parents warn her about the big city. Specifically, her father worries about foxes which he says can’t be trusted. Judy claims she disagrees with her father but takes the fox spray he offers, revealing her bias against predators.
On her first day on the job, Judy is assigned to parking duty by her Chief, Bogo. Judy realizes that she must overcome her boss’s bias against bunnies. She works hard, issuing over 200 parking tickets in one day, but is unfulfilled by her work.
Judy also meets Nick, a fox living in Zootopia. She falls for a scam that Nick is running, and Nick taunts her saying she’ll only ever be a parking maid.
Catalyst- Judy abandons her post to chase down a small-time crook, Duke Weaselton. Judy falsely arrests Duke and is reprimanded by Chief Bogo, who threatens to fire her. While in Bogo’s office, Mrs. Otterton arrives and pleads with Bogo for help finding her missing husband. Judy volunteers to solve the case of the missing otter.
Assistant Mayor Bellweather overhears the conversation and praises Bogo for putting the city’s first bunny officer on the case. Bogo has no choice but to agree; however, he gives Judy 48 hours to find the otter. If she fails, she must resign from the police force.
Debate- Judy realizes Nick is a crucial witness in the Otterton case. She confronts and tricks the fox into admitting to tax evasion. She secretly records his confession on her carrot pen and coerces Nick into helping her hunt down leads.
Break into Two- With Nick’s help, Judy sets off to solve the case of Otteron and the other missing predators.
B Story- Judy and Nick solidify their unlikely partnership. They travel to the department of mammal vehicles to meet Nick’s friend, who gives them information on the car that picked up Otterton.
Fun and Games- Judy and Nick track Otterton’s personal effects to a limousine owned by the crime boss, Mr. Big. They are captured by Mr. Big and questioned, but Judy reveals that she saved Mr. Big’s daughter, and he gives the name of his limousine driver, Manchas, as a thank you.
Midpoint- Judy questions Manchas at his home in the Rainforest District. Manchas tells them that he and Otterton were attacked, and Otterton yelled something about “night howlers.” Otterton then “went savage” and attacked Manchas. Suddenly Manchas goes savage and attached Judy and Nick.
Judy and Nick escape Manchas and call in reinforcements from the ZPD. When Chief Bogo arrives, Manchas is nowhere to be found. Bogo demands Judy’s resignation. Nick argues with Bogo until the Chief agrees to give them ten more hours to solve the case.
Bad Guys Close In- Through the city’s traffic cameras, Judy and Nick discover that Manchas was kidnapped by a group of Timberwolves, who they presume are the “night howlers” who Otterton feared. They track the Timberwolves, who take Manchas to a cliffside lab.
In the lab, they spy on the Mayor of ZPD. The Mayor is behind all the predator kidnappings across the city. Each kidnapped predator has gone savage, and the Mayor is holding them captive to hide their condition from the public. Being a predator, the Mayor worries about the public reaction to predators going savage.
Judy exposes the Mayor to the city and is celebrated as a hero. The mystery of what is causing the predators’ condition remains unsolved.
All is Lost- Judy speaks at a press conference. She claims that the predators have reverted to their true nature- savagery. Her speech causes panic in the prey population of Zootopia, who outnumber the predators ten to one. Predator animals experience discrimination in Zootopia, and Judy’s words are to blame.
Dark Night of the Soul- Nick confronts Judy about her bigotry towards foxes, and the two have a falling out. Guilt-ridden about her press conference, Judy resigns from the ZPD and moves back home to live with her parents.
Break into Three- Months later, Judy is working with her parents on a carrot farm. She meets her childhood bully, Gideon, who apologizes for their fight. Judy discovers, from her father, that “night howlers” are a flower that causes animals to go savage when eaten. She realizes that the flower must cause the predators to lose control.
Finale- Judy, and Nick reunite after Judy apologizes for her words. They hunt down Weasalton, who is selling the night howler flower to a ram. After tracking down the ram, the pair realize that Bellweather, the assistant Mayor is at the heart of all the attacks.
Judy and Nick expose Bellweather and restore peace to Zootopia. Nick eventually joins the ZPD and is partnered with Judy.
Final Image- Judy and Nick patrol Zootopia in their new suped-up police cruiser.
That’s all that we have on the Save the Cat plot structure. Want to learn more about classic and modern story structures? Great! Check out all these great articles we’ve created on plot!
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