Category Archives: Structure

Using the “Save the Cat” Format to Develop Your Story

Some of you who are familiar with Screenwriting may have heard the name Blake Snyder. Blake originally popped on the scene back in 1989 when he sold his scrip “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot” – which he sold for a half million dollars. He eventually went on to write a dozen more screenplays.

Along with his screenplays Blake developed a series of books called “Save the Cat. The Save the Cat books found that stories all followed a particular pattern. Movies that do NOT follow the format are actually not very good. All the best movies actually FOLLOW the SAve the Cat format.

What about novels?

Jessica Brody followed up with a book for novelists “Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book On Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need”. Jessica made a similar connection with great novels. Great stories all seemed to follow the Save the Cat format.

I highly recommend checking out either Blake or Jessica’s series of books as they both get into more details than what you’ll find here. Regardless, I’ll provided some of the high level detail here.

Save the Cat

The whole Save the Cat concept is centered around a series of necessary plot points or beats. Blake and Jessica show that great stories all have these. And although I was skeptical at first, once I learned the beats I can’t stop recognizing them as I watch stories.

Following Jessica’s beat structure, the Save the Cat structure begins with:

The Opening Image

The opening image essentially begins your story by providing a snapshot of your hero in his or her world.

Theme Stated

The Theme Stated is a scene briefly and provides a hint to your hero’s story arc. The arc is what your hero needs to learn by the end of the story. If your hero doesn’t learn your story will fall flat. Your story may be about a hero fighting aliens but that’s only the premise of your story. And yes folks are going to read your story based on the premise…but all great stories have an “inner goal”. In the Theme Stated someone (usually another character) will state what your hero needs to grow.

In Bridget Jone’s Diary, a question is posed to Bridget at a party: “How does a woman manage to get to your age without being married?” The question implies that it’s Bridget’s fault that she’s not married. In the end Bridget learns (spoiler alert!) she doesn’t have to change herself just to get a husband.

Setup

The Setup is required to demonstrate to the reader your here’s Act I world. It points out your hero’s faults. This is the world before we journey off to the road to growth.

The Catalyst

The Catalyst is the necessary scene where your hero is flipped into a new direction. This is where your hero is forced to leave his comfort zone. In the film Jaws, this is where a shark comes out and feasts on beach goers on their fourth of July festivities.

The Debate

After being thrown into a new direction there is a scene or scenes where your hero has a debate. The debate is usually in the form of a question, asking whether your hero should go? Sometimes it can be a preparation beat. For instance, when Harry Potter is invited to go to wizard school there is no question that he is going. Harry goes to Diagon Alley with Hagrid in preparation for attending Hogwarts.

Break into 2

This is the official move to Act II. Your hero is leaving the familiar world of Act I to a new upside down world of Act II. The Break into 2, is the point where your hero makes that jump. In Harry Potter, the Break into 2 is the point where he boards the train for Hogwarts, officially leaving the Muggle world of Act I.

The B Story

So if your story is a hero fighting evil aliens then your B Story is the story centered around your hero’s growth. At this point of your story, your hero will meet some helper characters whose job it is to help your hero learn the theme.

Fun and Games

This is where the premise of your story comes out — the reason why your readers picked up your novel. This is where your hero fights with the aliens.

There are two general directions that your hero can take here. Your hero is either on an upward path or a downward path. He or she is either winning or losing. So if your hero is fighting aliens then the plot shows your hero winning. This doesn’t mean that your hero flounders but it does mean that in general there is a gradual rise to success. Alternatively, your hero can be on a losing streak. Things get bad for your hero gradually. This happens to your hero up until the …..

Midpoint

The midpoint is literally the midpoint of your novel. It is marked by either a FALSE VICTORY or a FALSE DEFEAT.

If your hero was on a gradual upward winning path then the midpoint of your novel is marked by a FALSE WIN. It’s called a false win because –you guessed it — your character doesn’t actually win. Winning for your character can only come in the form of learning his or her inner goal and applying that knowledge to reach their goals.

Likewise if your character has been floundering during the Fun and Games beat then your midpoint results in a false defeat.

Example: In the story with your hero fighting the aliens –let’s say your hero’s arc is related to his lack of confidence (he doesn’t believe he can fight the aliens) and as a result he keeps running away. The fun and games portion of your novel is set with gradual defeats. His friends are dying, his town is devastated, and his family is lost. We would set up the midpoint with a false defeat — perhaps his best friend is killed.

It’s a false defeat because at this point we think things are over for our hero….but if it were then our story would be dead. We know that ultimately your hero will learn his arc and will defeat the aliens. But not yet!

Bad Guys Move In

Soon after the midpoint the “bad guys” start moving in. It doesn’t have to be literally bad guys but it could. And it isn’t only the external bad guys – this is where the internal bad guys come in.

Your hero has been doing things the wrong way up until now. to recap your hero’s Act I world shows him or her living with some flaw. A problem happens (Catalyst) and your hero tries to solve things using their own (flawed) ways (Break into two). Now after the midpoint, those same flawed ways begin to wreak havoc on your hero. For example, if your hero finds drinking as a coping mechanism (flawed way) for solving problems, the Bad Guys Move In beat involves your hero attempting to drink his/her way out of the problem.

….and of course that doesn’t work!

All Is Lost

Now that your hero attempts to fix things (the wrong way) the result is terrible. Your hero has lost everything. They are at the lowest point in the story. Bad guys have moved – it appears that your hero has lost.

Dark Night of the Soul

This is a quiet “reflection” beat that follows the All is Lost, where your hero takes time to think things out. Your hero reflects on their mistakes and finally learns the theme. Your hero learns that they were doing things the wrong way and now he or she is going to go through real change. Your hero’s arc has come full circle.

Break Into 3

Your hero comes up with a plan to fix everything and make things right. The plan will be a reflection of a theme learned. Your hero no longer will be doing things the wrong way.

Finale

This is the beat where your hero’s plan is put into action. This beat is also where friendships are mended. Your hero will gather the troup and “storm the castle”. The dragon is slain, the princess is saved.

Final Image

This is where your hero is now you show them in their new world. It is literally an inverse image of the opening image.

Your Hero Saving the Day!

That is it. There really isn’t a way to cram everything related to Save the Cat into one article so I plan on writing more in-depth analysis. There really is a lot more detail that we can go into. So if you haven’t done so please SUBSCRIBE to make sure you don’t miss anything!

Take care, and KEEP WRITING!

Show Don’t Tell

What does it mean to ‘Show, Don’t Tell’?

If you’re new to writing you most likely came across the multitude of articles that point out the importance of showing the reader as opposed to telling the reader the story.  The reason for the heavy emphasis comes down to the reality that readers are put off by having the story told to them.

Consider the following:

Telling:

Mellisa put on her shoes then ran to the door.  When she opened it she saw it was Jake her ex boyfriend.  He was the last person she wanted to see because he dumped her on their last date.  She slammed the door shut.

Showing:

Mellisa grabbed her shoes and ran for the door. Jake? “Seriously?”  she lashed out.  “I thought it was over?”  Before Jake could explain the door was already shut.

Most readers will find the second one more pleasing.  The reason is that it elicit’s a visual of the scene.  Readers, especially voracious readers, tend to prefer passages that paint the picture.  Fast readers tend to be more visual.  Telling causes them to slow down.  The only visuals they see are the words themselves.  This ends up taking them out of the story….and from then the likelihood they will stop reading increases.

Here’s another example.

Telling:

Mario quickly put the car in fifth gear and then proceeded to pass the other car – a corvette.

Showing:

Mario slammed the stick shift in high leaving the corvette in the trailing cloud of dust.

Which one elicits a visual?  Of course the second passage.  We can almost smell the burning rubber!

When editing your writing ask yourself if you are telling the reader what’s happening.  If so, rewrite it.  Practice will definitely make you better at this.

Of course there will be times when you will tell the story to the reader.

Here’s a passage from the novel I’m working on:

Todd’s leg was on fire.  Blood trickled down around the knife and down his leg.  He took a deep breath and then pulled it out.

The last sentence could have been written like:

He grasped the knife with both hands and felt the blade as it slid out.

It would have worked but I elected to put in the “telling” simply to change things up.  Too much colourful language will cause the reader to get tired and adding a bit of telling changes the pace.

Telling occasionally also has the effect of keeping things ‘natural’.

Try changing things up when you edit but if you have to err, err on the side of showing.