Save the Cat Plot Structure
Breaking Your Story Down into Fifteen Beats
Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need written by Blake Snyder was a book about story structure for screen writers. In the last twenty years or so, the author developed a following and even though he passed away in 2009 his reach has expanded from his original book to include other books written by other authors, one specifically for novel writers. He has software, a podcasts, and other content to help writers plot using this method. I’ve included a link to his website so you can learn more about him if this interests you.
You might see a pattern by now if you’ve read my previous blog posts on plotting, but this plotting structure is another adaptation of the hero’s journey and incorporates the three-act structure as all plotting methods do. I found this chart online that shows nicely how similar many plotting structures are.
Snyder has called the plot points beats, and instead of 5, 7 or 10 major plot points, he has 15 beats.
Since he wrote his book for screen writers, he was very specific about where these beats should occur, down to the exact page in the screenplay. He’s received some criticism about this because some writers feel that the beats should occur when they happen naturally in the script and not be so regimented and formulaic. Jessica Brody has adapted this structure for novelists using the same 15 beats, but instead of stating a specific page where the beats must land, she gives percentages, and it looks like this:
1. Opening Image (0% to 1%) — A “before” snapshot of the hero and his world. In the hero’s journey this is his ordinary world. What is happening as the story starts?
2. Theme Stated (5%) — A statement made by a character (typically not the hero) that hints at what the hero’s arc will be. What is the transformation the hero will have to make? What does he want?
3. Setup (1% — 10%) — This part shows more of the hero’s ordinary world, both what is working and what is not. What goal does this character have and why isn’t he going for it? What is holding him back? What is it costing him to stay in this ordinary world? Show who he is, his personality. Introduce secondary characters. In the hero’s journey, this could be the call to adventure and the refusal.
4. Catalyst (10%) — An inciting incident, the event that launches the hero out of his ordinary life and into the new world. In the hero’s journey this is the crossing of the threshold.
5. Debate (10% to 20%) — The hero questions what he should do next. It’s an echo of the refusal of the call to adventure. He’s still wishing he didn’t have to change; he’s fearful, not confident.
6. Break Into 2 (20%) — The hero sees that there’s no option but to accept the call. He moves forward and enters the new world.
7. B Story (22%) — New characters can appear. It’s the meeting with the mentor part of the hero’s journey, though it does not have to be a positive character; it can be a friend, but just as easily an antagonist. The point of this character is to help the hero learn the theme stated in #2.
8. Fun and Games (20% to 50%) — This is also called the promise of the premise where the writer delivers on the promise of the story. If the story is a thriller, then we should see some scenes that are typical of that genre, for example. We see the hero in his new world either thriving or finding it challenging.
9. Midpoint (50%) — The middle of the novel. The Fun and Games are over and we’ll see a plot twist. In a romance, after things are going well, the couple will realize their relationship will never work because of a major difference or obstacle. Sometimes we see a momentary triumph — the couple is in love they are willing to risk everything to be together, but it quickly falls apart as reality intervenes. Or there could be a loss that makes it look like the hero has lost it all, then things turn around and he keeps going, but the stakes have gone up and the hero is ready to commit 100%.
10. Bad Guys Close In (50% to 75%) — The tension of the novel increases and things will get progressively worse for the hero. However, if the Midpoint made things look like the hero lost it all, the next scenes will show how he gets out of his mess and things will improve. He will have to deal with his internal issues here as well. What is it inside of him that keeps him from succeeding and getting his goal? In the hero’s journey this is part of his tests.
11. All Is Lost (75%) –The hero hits rock bottom. He loses what he wants most, sometimes someone dies. If he doesn’t make it out of this challenge, the story becomes a tragedy.
12. Dark Night of the Soul (75% to 80%) — This is a sequel to the last section. The hero reacts to what has happened. Usually, he will make a new discovery after this, but this is his lowest point.
13. Break Into 3 (80%) — The hero implements his new plan. It’s his last opportunity to succeed. He also needs to have changed internally at this point. If he hasn’t made the internal changes, he will fail.
14. Finale (80% to 99%) — The hero achieves his goal, has transformed, and learned his lesson. He and his world are better after going through this journey.
15. Final Image (99% to 100%) — This is the “after” snapshot of who the hero has become now that he is a transformed person. Sometimes it’s a glimpse of what is to come.
This plotting structure is a bit prescriptive, however, it’s helpful in creating a story that will flow well. You can use it to plot your story before you write one word if you enjoy plotting, or you can use it during revision to see if you’ve included these steps if you are a pantser. If the story pacing is off, it might be because you are missing some of these key beats or because your percentages are off.
I hope this, along with the other plotting structures, is helpful to you. Let me know if you’ve used this method or any other.