Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat saved this writer’s life.
I hate to be hyperbolic but I sincerely feel that way. Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat was my first introduction to plot formulas. When I wrote In Her Closet, the first book in The Lust Diaries, I joined a writer’s group and received the best group critique I could ever receive. At a bloated 120k words, I had enough scenes and subplots to fill three books—which I eventually did—but I would have never figured out how to do it if I didn’t have Save The Cat, a book on screenwriting that we were passing around at the time.
Blake Snyder calls this plot formula a “Beat Sheet”. The Beat Sheet provides page numbers that suit a film script, but you’ll find it useful for structuring novels. It works especially well for those of us who write or visualize stories cinematically. Like I said, this was the first plot formula I ever used and it helped me to successfully complete three books.
ACT ONE (THESIS)
Opening Image – set tone, mood & style; give “before” snapshot of hero. “A day in the life” or “normal day” sort of scene. They’re single but they seem or claim to be okay with it.
Theme Stated – declaration of theme, argument or story purpose (by minor to the main character). This is when your characters flaw/wound/central problem is made evident.
Set-up – introduce hero’s quirks; how & why they need to change.
Catalyst – bad news that knocks down set-up, but ultimately leads the hero to happiness. In a romance, this is when the “love interest” is introduced.
Debate – hero questions their ability to proceed while protecting themselves from inevitable feelings.
ACT TWO (ANTITHESIS)
Break into Two – hero (through their own decision) moves into the antithetical world.
B Story – break from the main story; often a “love” story; meet new characters antithetical to earlier ones.
Fun and Games – provides the promise of the premise. If this is a friends-to-lovers romance, it shows their friendship shifting into deeper feelings. If it’s an arranged marriage this is when the characters set off on their honeymoon and begin to fall in love.
Midpoint – fun and games over; hero reaches a false peak or false collapse; changes dynamic; raises stakes. You Hero and Heroine are in love! Or at least they think they are, they cement those feelings with an intimate connection (the sex).
Bad Guys Close In – bad guys regroup; internal dissent in hero’s team; hero isolated and headed for fall. They feel exposed by the intimacy they shared and they might
All Is Lost – false defeat (that feels real); “whiff of death” (often of mentor); end of the old way. All of the old wounds/flaws/central problems rise up anew and one, or both, do or say something that makes them feel betrayed.
Dark Night of the Soul – darkness before the dawn; hero feels they’re beaten and forsaken. The breakup or “big misunderstanding.”
Break into Three – internal B story provides a solution to A story. Harsh and difficult truths that one or both need to learn are revealed and they have to decide if they will continue to be held back by their old wounds or move forward and live their best life with the man/woman that they love (the answer is usually yes unless this book is the first in a series).
ACT THREE (SYNTHESIS)
Finale – a triumph for the hero; bad guys dispatched (in ascending order); hero changes world. Grand gesture and the hero and heroine make up with sex or promises of forever.
Final Image – opposite of opening image; proof of real change. Happily Ever After or Happy For Now ending!
Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet is great for beginners. The structure is solid and the restrictions actually make it easier to tell a more creative story. I highly recommend getting a copy of Save The Cat.
Are there any fans of Save the Cat out there? Tell me about it in the comments! Drop a link if it’s published!