In this blog, we examine Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat! with a breakdown of the 15 beats that make up a screenplay.
Ready To Save The Cat?: 15 Plot Beats For A Successful Script Or Story
Save The Cat! is a method of creating a screenplay. The 15 tried-and-test plot points, or beats, help writers develop strong commercial scripts.
Because the method is easy to remember, writers use it as template to help keep them on track.
Why Is It Called Save The Cat!?
In classic television shows and comic strips, the fireman always saves the cat stuck up a tree. While the scenario has become a cliché, the Save The Cat! method helps writers – and the audience – identify and champion the hero of the story.
The principle of the hero who wants to save the cat from the tree can be applied to other popular plots.
Here are five simple examples:
- The defence attorney who wants to save their client from prison.
- The psychiatrist who wants to save their patient from an eating disorder.
- The parent who wants to save their adult child from an abusive partner.
- The homicide detective who wants to save the city from a dangerous killer.
- The entrepreneur who wants to save their small community business from a corporate takeover.
Who Created Save The Cat!?
The method was made famous by Blake Snyder but is has since become a creative movement around the world.
Often called Hollywood’s most successful spec screenwriter, Snyder scripted Hollywood movies like Blank Check and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!
Blake Snyder wrote four books on Save The Cat!:
- Save The Cat! – The first seminal book includes tried and tested rules to make scripts more marketable. Here he explains the concept of 15 beats.
- Save The Cat! Writes For TV – The book is a guide for writers looking to create attention-grabbing content for television or streaming platforms.
- Save The Cat! Goes To The Movies – This is the sequel to original book and it breaks down classic movies, from M*A*S*H to Crash, Aliens to Saw, and many more.
- Save The Cat! Blake’s Blogs – The book collects more than 100 of Blake Snyder’s blog posts, which are grouped into 10 themes.
Who Can Benefit From It?
While the method is primarily aimed at screenwriters, it has been widely adopted by novelists and short story writers. It can be even used to plot out a short music video or advertising clip.
Breaking Down The Beat Sheet
Here are short explainers of each of the 15 plot points that have made this formula so successful for scriptwriters.
As a writer, it will help you understand what ‘beats’ you have to hit in your story.
You will see on what page (or percentage mark) the beats should fall. If you have a longer or shorter script, the percentage mark allows you to adjust accordingly.
A picture paints a thousand words
Page/Percentage 0 to 1
In the vital first moments of Act 1, you must give the viewer a clue as to what the story is about. You can do it with one or two clear images, a compelling visual hook or even an idea for a graphic treatment (for example, a map, a computer game interface, a series of caricatures and so forth).
▀ Try some exercises to sharpen your visual storytelling.
Say it loud and clear
The audience doesn’t have access to a character’s thoughts. You must put the theme of the story in dialogue. Make it as unambiguous as possible so that it registers with the audience.
The theme and the character’s goal can mesh, or their wants and the reality of their situation can be at odds.
Sketch the status quo
Pages/Percentage 1 to 10
Show your character’s world before it is disrupted. Give a glimpse of their day- to-day life, their moral principles and support structures (friends, co-workers, shrinks, etcetera).
Tell the audience what makes this character tick – what motivates them to get out of bed every morning. You must also expose secrets – show their fears, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities.
Adventure is calling (don’t hang up!)
This is the first important beat in the story. Bring in a strong inciting moment or incident to ignite the plot.
Think of it as lighting the fuse on a tube of dynamite! It’s that moment that comes just before something violent, unexpected or untimely happens.
Keep in mind, this is also the part of a screenplay where the antagonist steps into focus.
On the edge of adventure …
Pages/Percentage 10 to 20
In this beat, the main character decides what action they will take – if any. Sometimes they will want to return to a safe and comfortable world. But it is impossible, all which was familiar has disappeared. They must be prepared to fight back against the attack.
Break Into Two
Leave ordinary, enter extraordinary
As you enter Act 2, the story gains momentum. The protagonist crosses a real or metaphorical threshold and enters an extraordinary world. There’s no going back now.
At this major turning point, the new world is full of adventure, risk and challenges. The lead character will be tested, tested, and tested again.
Teasing out theme
A B-Story is a subplot that complements and evens out the pace of the main storyline. Here you have an opportunity to comment or highlight the theme of A or main storyline.
It’s a chance to slow down and allow the audience to catch their breath. It’s an opportunity to show another facet of the hero.
Fun & Games
The nail biting begins …
Pages/Percentage 20 to 50
Are you ready to kick the action into high gear? In this sequence, you need to grip the viewer’s attention with bold action, exciting challenges, intense drama or loads of laughs.
In this beat, make the main character grapple with trying to solve his problem, and not succeeding.
Hitting the right note – a false low or a false high
The middle is often the first culmination or reversal of the story. Make sure your hero meets the baddie or antagonist in an absolutely unforgettable scene.
There is a lot at stake here. It’s a ‘heads or tails’ situation, and your lead character experiences their first major triumph – or a humiliating set back.
▀ Read 6 Indispensable Plot Pivots
If you’re enjoying the 15 beats from Save The Cut, read on for the next six.
Bad Guys Close In
The net gets narrower
Pages/Percentage 50 to 75
Now the hero picks themselves off the ground, dusts their butt off, and faces the danger with new resolve. If they have solved their first challenge, they may find themselves facing a new, unexpected, and bigger threat.
The forces against them are stronger, more determined, and getting closer. They are pushed towards the edge. The villain is relentless and determined to see the hero fail.
All Is Lost
The whiff of death …
At this points, things look bleak for the hero. Here the goal seems impossible, or a set back looks insurmountable.
Often something or someone dies – a loss of innocence, or the loss of a support character.
Dark Night Of The Soul
Darkest before the dawn
Pages/Percentage 75 to 80
In this beat, the main character has to sit with the pain, loss, or psychological wound. They face a stark moment of truth.
When your character has hit rock bottom, there is only way to go … up! Heroes don’t stay down for long. Rising from the ashes, they prepare for the final fight.
▀ Read The Moment Of Truth
Break Into Three
Victor not victim
In Act 3, there’s going back. Your hero’s resolve is locked in, they are ready for the final stretch.
Sometimes they come across a last-minute boon. Or they receive help from an unexpected ally. This is also a good place to introduce a major twist or a small surprise if it serves the story.
The gloves are off!
Pages/Percentage 80 to 90
It’s time for the showdown with the antagonist. Every challenge they have faced in the preceding acts has brought your main character to this point.
In the final fight, they either win, lose or come to a draw. If you’re writing commercial story, it’s better if the win is a resounding knockout. Everyone loves a happy ending.
Page/Percentage 99 to 100
To close out the script, you can repeat, subvert and subtly change the opening
image. You can also create the antithesis of the opening image.
The opening and final images are visual parentheses that hold the story together – and remind the audience of the awesome journey the hero has just completed.
The hero has been radically changed by the events of the story.
Can You Use Save The Cat! For Novel Writing?
Yes. However, the process doesn’t have to be as prescriptive. For prose writers, you can match the beats to a narrative structure.
- 3-Act Structure – the beginning, middle and end of a novel doesn’t have to be as cleanly delineated as in a script.
- Theme Stated – you don’t have to put this in dialogue. You can tease it out with a character’s interior thought.
- B-Story – you can bring in subplots and other characters a lot sooner. You have more ‘room’ to build out a story in a novel.
If you do want to follow the process more diligently, simply take the length of the novel and divide into the number of scenes you’ll need for each act, then match these to Blake Snyder’s 15 beats. (The percentage makers above will guide you.)
The Last Word
We love Snyder’s quote on IMDB on perseverance or what he calls ‘being a bullhead.’
He says, ‘You must find a life within the confines of “It is what it is”. This is where your skills as a bullhead will save both you and your sanity.’
Ready to bring your story alive?
Check out How To Write A Screenplay
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