The Save The Cat Beat Sheet helps authors to create a plot structure using fifteen plot points. It is a simple novel-writing template that can help outline a novel or film script from any genre.
The Save the Cat beat sheet template assists novelists and screenwriters in creating a successful story arc, with an engaging pace, interesting characters and flawless dramatic structure.
Continue reading to learn more about how to write your own beat sheet using this story plotting system.
- What the Save the Cat beat sheet is
- The origins of Save the Cat
- A beat-by-beat breakdown of each step
And if you like this article, we also recommend our comprehensive list of story structures, and we also highly recommend Plottr, a plotting tool for authors that incorporates this and many other narrative structures.
The Origins of the Save The Cat Beat Sheet
The creator of the Save the Cat Beat Sheet is Blake Snyder, a speculative screenwriter. His credits include the movie “Blank Check “(1994) and five episodes of the television series “Kids Incorporated” (1993).
The Save The Cat Beat Sheet template was first published in Snyder's best-selling Save the Cat (2005) guide to plotting dramatic structure. It is currently in its 34th printing.
Snyder's Save The Cat framework gets its name from the movie “Aliens” (1986). In the film, the audience is incited emotionally, when Officer Ripley's cat disappears. The audience anticipates that the cat may be the prey of a vicious extraterrestrial that is aboard her spaceship. It plays with the idea that if you show your character doing something that makes the audience root for them (such as saving a cat), then the audience will be instantly more invested in those characters.
What is The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet?
The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet is an elaboration of the classic 3 act story structure. If diagrammed, this story structure resembles a skewed pyramid, with an exposition, an upward path, a climax, a downward path and a conclusion.
Another way to visualize this beat sheet is to use cards, organized by each act, like so:
These narratives are always character driven with a hero or anti-hero whose mission or adventure is blocked by an antagonistic force. The Midpoint of the story is always the point at which a big plot twist is revealed and the hero realizes they are, for better or worse, in a fight for their life. The second half of the story leads to a final scene, that is either a victory or catastrophe for the lead character.
The Save The Cat Beat Sheet was created by Snyder to help writers learn scene timing, as well as the placement of essential plot points such as an inciting incident, a life changing event, or the a false defeat of an antagonistic force.
The Save The Cat Beat Sheet
Here are all fifteen beats that make up the Save The Cat Beat Sheet Template with a further explanation of every beat and the amount of narrative time allotted to each by percentage.
Beat #1: Opening Image (0-1%)
This is a single establishing scene or paragraph that should visually tell the viewers or readers as much as possible about the main character.
Think of it as a “before” snapshot of who your protagonist was before the unfolding of this story.
This scene can be an actual photo or very short clip or even an animation, explaining your protagonist’s world in that “a picture is worth a thousand words” way.
Beat #2: Theme Stated (5%)
In this first 5% of the story, the theme of the hero's story arc is established.
Examples of story arc themes are:
- Rags to Riches (a story with a happy ending.)
- Riches to Rags (a tale of ruin.)
- Man in a Hole (a triumph over an impossible situation.)
- Double Man in A Hole (a false victory leading to a second conflict and a triumph over impossible odds.)
- Icarus (a rise, a sabotage by a tragic flaw, and then a fall.)
- Cinderella (a rise, then fall, then a rise with a happy ending.)
- Oedipus (a fall, then a rise, a delusion, then a fall.)
This theme can also be referred to as the protagonist's “life lesson.” For instance, the Myth of Icarus is about a man who wants to fly. The story arc details his attempts to do so, by creating himself wings from wax and feathers. The life lesson presented is how too much ambition (flying too high) leads to a fall from grace. At the climax of the story, Icarus flies too high and too close to the sun. His waxed wings melt and he falls to his death.
Beat #3: Setup (1% – 10%)
Beat #3 delves deeper into the protagonist's life, revealing other characters who may be friends, enemies or a situation that must be addressed. The character may need to leave a toxic job, address a health problem, or take steps to better one's life.
These scenes can also reveal a character's tragic flaw, how he or she self-sabotages, or has misguided expectations about the future.
Beat #4: Catalyst (10%)
At 10% into the story, the main character is catapulted into a crisis through a breakup, divorce, death or invitation. This is a life-changing event, called an inciting incident, and it disrupts their entire world view and forces them to examine their position.
Beat #5: Debate (10%-20%)
The debate that occurs at beat 5 is usually an internal one, where the character wonders, “Where should I go?”, “What should I do next?” Sometimes this scene includes a friend with good advice that is resisted by the protagonist.
The debate is usually triggered by a threatening or looming event. Often the purpose of this beat is to show the protagonist's reluctance to change and have things as they were.
Beat #6: Break Into 2 (20%)
Story beat 6 is the point where the protagonist must rise to meet a challenge or there could be a catastrophe.
Alternatively, the main character might be inspired to make a change to reach a personal goal, even though the situation is fraught with obstacles.
Typically this new goal is pursued throughout the first half of Act 2.
Beat #7: B Story (22%)
During the first half of Act 2 the main character usually meets a helper on their journey. This character can be a love interest, rival, new friend or a guru.
The ultimate purpose of this new character is to assist the hero on their life journey.
Beat #8: Fun and Games (20% -50%)
Beat 8 is a long sequence of several scenes that show how the main character's second act works differently from the one introduced in the first act.
This act will either show the character floundering, or succeeding as they seek to meet their goal, depending on the story arc that you have chosen.
Story beat 8 also refers to the “promise of the premise”, that may have been described on the back of the book jacket, or in the tagline of the movie.
For instance, in Jaws (1975) the promise of the premise is that someone will be eaten by a shark. The threat of the shark is there, but the audience is teased by a kid wearing a fake shark fin in the water. A shark is caught, but it is not the Great White that is killing people.
The real killer shark is not actually shown until it attacks a swimmer, forcing the sheriff of a small beach town to act. This is the point at which there is no more fun and games”, and the main character must kill the shark before beach season opens.
Beat #9: Midpoint (50%)
Beat 9 marks the middle point of the story's narrative where the hero encounters either a false victory, or false defeat.
A false victory is when the lead character thinks that they are getting everything they want, but something reveals that this may not necessarily be true. It could be that the victory leads to even more unhappiness. Often the reveal at the midpoint shows that “what we think we want is not the best for us.”
A false defeat is a moment that somehow resonates with failure. The character hits some sort of rock bottom. From the perspective of the protagonist, there is nowhere to go but up. In this type of story arc, the main character must conquer himself in some way, and often this propels the midpoint into a counter narrative that has a happy ending.
Beat #10: Bad Guys Close In (50 to 75%)
The tenth story beat is where the bad guys close in on the protagonist, leading to a catastrophic conclusion. These are sometimes characters that gang up on the protagonist, or villains that send the story arc into a downward spiral.
Sometimes these are internal bad guys, sabotaging the lead character from making the right decisions. At this point in the story, it may be too late for the character to do what is right.
Beat #11: All Is Lost (75%)
Beat 11 is the point in the novel or film where something dies. It could be a literal death, the protagonist's old life, or just the death of the old self.
This scene usually merges seamlessly into Beat 12, the Dark Night of the Soul.
Beat #12: Dark Night of the Soul (75% – 80%)
Beat 12 is a reflective beat that shows how the main character has changed throughout the story. Often there is an element of “transcending the old self” to become someone new.
This is a scene or scene sequence that is a realization of the theme, and shows how the main character may have learned his or her lesson.
Beat #13: The Break Into Three (80%)
At Beat 13 the protagonist experiences some kind of epiphany, where they finally realize what it is that they must do to fix their problematic situation. They are reborn as a more improved version of themselves.
In some story arcs, the protagonist may realize their flaws, but it may be too late, setting the audience up for a tragic ending.
Beat #14: The Finale (80%-99%)
In the finale, the hero's world is transformed. In happier stories, bad guys are destroyed, people reunited and all is not lost after all.
In sadder story arcs, the demons within win and the character meets the worst possible, and often most ironic fate.
Beat #15: Final Image (99%-100%)
Beat 15 mirrors the cinematic image or literary paragraph that was created in Beat 1 to introduce us to the character.
This “snapshot” shows who the hero has become after transcending his situation. It represents the thematic resolution of the entire story arc, and is the “picture that says it all.”
Should You Use the Save the Cat Beat Sheet?
Whether you are writing a novel or film script, the beats that Blake Snyder suggests can help you write a seamless first draft without one unnecessary scene. This 15 point universal structure applies to every type of genre, whether it be a love story, tragedy, or comedy.
A good beat sheet can help you devise an intriguing theme or life lesson, a captivating character arc and a tight plot with turning points in all the right places. It is a great blueprint for any character-driven story; it helps you create the essential context needed to craft dramatic structure.
So should you use it?
As with any story structure, the most important thing is to experiment and see if it is right for you. Try outlining your novel and seeing if the basic beats of Save the Cat work for your story. If not, try outlining with a different narrative structure.
A great tool to help you plot your novel is Plottr, and outlining software built specifically for authors who need help plotting the novels.
A great feature about Plottr is that they have pre-built templates for a number of different plotting structures. While this does not include a Save the Cat Template (yet), you can easily build your own outline based on Save the Cat in Plottr.
So basically, if you want a guide that will hold your hand through the entire process, making it much easier for you, then we recommend you check Plottr out.