What is the Save the Cat! Beat Sheet?

As a budding/aspiring writer, I know firsthand how challenging it can be to come up with fresh and exciting story ideas. That’s why I turned to Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat!” book series on screenwriting for guidance. Over the course of a year, I read each book and had a realisation moment as Snyder’s beat sheet formula opened my mind to a new way of structuring stories.

Snyder’s books were invaluable in helping me to generate new story ideas and to refine my writing skills. I now feel more confident in my ability to create engaging stories that resonate with readers and viewers alike.

Origins and Benefits of the Save the Cat! Beat Sheet

Screenwriter and author Blake Snyder created the “Save the Cat!” beat sheet as a way to help screenwriters structure their stories and engage their audiences. He believed that using story beats could make the writing process easier and more effective by providing a framework for writers to follow. Additionally, Snyder felt that a well-structured screenplay would be more likely to grab the attention of busy producers and executives who are looking for compelling stories that can be easily marketed to audiences.

Snyder’s beat sheet emphasises the importance of hitting specific beats in a screenplay, such as introducing the main character and their goal, providing a catalyst that sets the story in motion, and including a midpoint that changes the course of the story. The beat sheet also encourages writers to make sure their stories have a clear and compelling theme, relatable characters, and a satisfying ending.

Overall, the “Save the Cat” beat sheet has become a popular tool for screenwriters because it provides a clear and concise way to structure a screenplay and keep the story on track. By following the beat sheet, writers can ensure that their story is engaging, emotionally resonant, and satisfying for audiences.

Structure of the Save the Cat! Beat Sheet

The “Save the Cat!” beats are the storytelling structure popularised by Blake Snyder in his book “Save the Cat!” They are a series of narrative beats that help create a compelling and engaging story. Here are the 15 “Save the Cat!” beats:

  1. Opening Image: The first image of the story, which establishes the tone, setting, and mood.
  2. Theme Stated: A line of dialogue or moment that expresses the theme of the story.
  3. Set-up: The introduction of the main character, their world, and their problem.
  4. Catalyst: An inciting incident that disrupts the status quo and sets the story in motion.
  5. Debate: The main character’s internal conflict about whether or not to pursue the story’s goal.
  6. Break into Two: The main character makes a choice and sets out on a new path.
  7. B Story: The introduction of a secondary storyline that supports the main plot.
  8. Fun and Games: The main character begins to pursue their goal in a series of entertaining and engaging scenes.
  9. Midpoint: A moment of realisation or revelation that changes the direction of the story.
  10. Bad Guys Close In: The main character faces increasing obstacles and setbacks.
  11. All Is Lost: The main character suffers a major setback or defeat.
  12. Dark Night of the Soul: The main character hits rock bottom and must confront their deepest fear.
  13. Break into Three: The main character finds a new perspective and develops a new plan.
  14. Finale: The main character faces the antagonist and overcomes their final obstacle.
  15. Final Image: The last image of the story, which mirrors the opening image and shows the main character in their new reality.

These beats are not meant to be rigidly followed but serve as a helpful guide for crafting a well-structured and satisfying story.

Examples of Popular Films That Follow the Save the Cat! Beat Sheet

Many popular films follow the “Save the Cat!” beat sheet or a similar structure, including:

  1. Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
  2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
  3. The Lion King (1994)
  4. Titanic (1997)
  5. The Matrix (1999)
  6. The Dark Knight (2008)
  7. Toy Story 3 (2010)
  8. Black Panther (2018)
  9. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
  10. Parasite (2019)

These films may not follow the beat sheet exactly or may modify it to fit their unique storytelling needs, but they all demonstrate the importance of a well-structured and engaging narrative.

Save the Cat! Beat Sheet of the Movie ‘The Matrix’

Here’s how the “Save the Cat!” beat sheet applies to the movie The Matrix (1999):

  1. Opening Image: The film opens with a shot of computer code and Trinity being chased by agents, establishing the world as a dark and dangerous place.
  2. Theme Stated: The theme is introduced when Trinity tells Neo that “the Matrix has you.”
  3. Set-up: We are introduced to Thomas Anderson, a computer programmer who goes by the hacker name Neo, and his desire to learn the truth about the Matrix.
  4. Catalyst: When Neo receives a message from the mysterious Morpheus, it sets in motion the events that will change Neo’s life forever.
  5. Debate: Neo is unsure if he should trust Morpheus and his claims about the Matrix.
  6. Break into Two: Neo decides to follow Morpheus and learn the truth about the Matrix.
  7. B Story: The B story involves Neo’s relationship with Trinity, who helps him navigate the dangerous world of the Matrix.
  8. Fun and Games: Neo learns how to bend the rules of the Matrix and gains new skills as he trains with Morpheus and his team.
  9. Midpoint: The midpoint occurs when Neo is betrayed by Cypher and is captured by the agents.
  10. Bad Guys Close In: The agents try to break Neo and force him to reveal the location of Morpheus and his team.
  11. All Is Lost: Morpheus is captured by the agents, and Neo is forced to confront the reality of his situation.
  12. Dark Night of the Soul: Neo must come to terms with his own limitations and the seemingly impossible task of saving Morpheus.
  13. Break into Three: Neo decides to confront the agents and rescue Morpheus, even if it means sacrificing his own life.
  14. Finale: The climax involves an epic battle between Neo and the agents, culminating in Neo’s realisation that he is the One.
  15. Final Image: The film ends with Neo hanging up the phone and a sense of hope for the future.

This breakdown illustrates how the “Save the Cat” beat sheet can be applied to a wide range of films, including action-packed and complex stories like The Matrix.

How To Use the Save the Cat! Beat Sheet

You can use the “Save the Cat!” beat sheet in a number of ways to improve your storytelling skills and create a more structured and engaging screenplay. Here are a few tips:

  1. Study the beat sheet: The first step is to familiarise yourself with the “Save the Cat” beat sheet and its various beats. Read books on screenwriting or watch videos that explain the different beats and how they work together to create a compelling story.
  2. Plan your story: Before you start writing your screenplay, use the beat sheet to plan out your story. Think about each beat and how it applies to your story, and use this as a roadmap for your writing.
  3. Identify your main character and their goal: One of the key beats of the beat sheet is introducing the main character and their goal. Make sure you have a clear idea of who your main character is, what they want, and why they want it.
  4. Create a compelling catalyst: The catalyst is the event that sets the story in motion, and it’s essential to grab the audience’s attention. Make sure your catalyst is engaging, relevant to the story, and creates a sense of urgency.
  5. Build tension: Throughout your screenplay, make sure you are building tension and creating obstacles for your main character to overcome. Use the various beats of the beat sheet to raise the stakes and keep the audience engaged.
  6. Use the midpoint to change the story: The midpoint is a crucial turning point in the story, where something unexpected happens that changes the course of the plot. Use this moment to surprise the audience and keep them invested in the story.
  7. Focus on theme: The beat sheet emphasises the importance of having a clear and compelling theme that ties the story together. Make sure your story has a message or idea that resonates with the audience.
  8. Write a satisfying ending: The final beat of the beat sheet is the resolution, where the story comes to a satisfying conclusion. Make sure your ending is emotionally resonant and ties up all the loose ends of the story.

By using the “Save the Cat!” beat sheet as a guide, you can create a more structured and engaging screenplay that will grab the attention of audiences and industry professionals alike.

A Final Note on Overreliance on Save the Cat! Beat Sheet

The caveats of using a beat sheet include the potential for overreliance on formula, neglecting character development, lack of originality, ignoring the audience, and not adapting to different genres. To avoid these pitfalls, writers can:

  1. Use the beat sheet as a guide, but not as a strict formula.
  2. Focus on character development and not just hitting the beats.
  3. Strive for originality and creativity in their storytelling.
  4. Consider the needs and preferences of the audience.
  5. Adapt the beat sheet to fit the specific needs of their story and genre.

Overall, it’s important to use the beat sheet as a tool to help structure the story, but not as a substitute for creative thinking and originality. The beat sheet can be a helpful guide, but writers should also be open to making changes and adjustments as necessary to create a unique and engaging story.

The Books in the Save the Cat! Series

Each book provides insights, tips, and tools for writers to help them develop and structure their stories, whether for screenwriting, novel writing, or television writing. The series has become a go-to resource for many aspiring writers and has helped shape the modern understanding of story structure and screenwriting theory.

Photo by Aman Upadhyay on Unsplash


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