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Save The Cat Beatsheet

Picture this: you’re hard at work outlining your feature film script or series pilot. You have probably figured out the beginning and have a good idea what the inciting incident is. You may even have the climax. But all of a sudden, once you’re into the second act of it, you find you’re running out of ideas. You have no clue what happens next. And even if you do, you suspect that you’ll end up having a sagging middle. At this stage, you’re probably thinking to yourself that you need a list of the major turning points of your story. Perhaps you have this list already, but it feels a little sparse. A little thin and unexciting.

What if you had a tool to assist you with answering the question “what happens next?” But rather than giving you straight out-and-out answers, the tool gives you a sense, or a feel, for the next beat in your story.  That tool is the “Save The Cat” beat sheet. Introduced by Blake Snyder in his book with the same name, the STC Beat Sheet is one of the best known writing tools on the market today.  It has given rise to countless forums, websites, online courses, workshops and even a writing app. 

So what is the beat sheet?
The beat sheet consists of 15 points or steps. These are:

  1. Opening image
  2. Theme stated
  3. Set-Up
  4. Catalyst
  5. Debate
  6. Break Into Act Two
  7. B Story Introduction
  8. Fun and Games
  9. Midpoint
  10. Bad guys closing
  11. All is lost
  12. Dark night of the soul
  13. Break Into Three
  14. Finale
  15. Final Image

I won’t go into a full explanation of each beat, because that has been done ad nauseam. Nor will I offer any templates, because several are readily available on the Internet. What I want to do is to take a stab at answering the how question.

How do you use the beat sheet?

I have to be honest. In my experience, the STC beat sheet only helped me out directly with maybe the first two or three features I wrote. After that, I found I wanted more from my writing. Being able to hit all the beats right on time just wasn’t enough. There was a certain element of playfulness and discovery that the STC Beat sheet sort of truncated. And I wanted it back.  

But as I used the tool more and more often over the years, I came to realize that it’s a very good second draft tool.  What do I mean by this? If you’ve used the tool many times, there comes a point where you know all the beats pretty much by heart. You can pick up your screenplay, or any screenplay, glance at the total page count, and more or less know what emotional beat you ought to be hitting at what point in the story. And that’s fantastic to keep in the back of your mind and in your subconscious as you bang out your first draft. It will work its way into your script as you write, for the most part. Then once you’re done with the first draft, Save The Cat becomes really useful for analyzing the beats that you’ve “first drafted” out. You can then rearrange, play and align them using the tool, and get a good idea of how to proceed with the second draft and subsequent drafts of your screenplay.

The reason why the STC beatsheet is such a good form tool and not a very good substance tool is, in my opinion, because of the nature of creativity itself.  There are many different midpoints. There are countless all is lost moments. Numerous inciting incidents. And it’s very difficult to say, for instance, that the inciting incident has to take a certain specific shape. In a family drama, an inciting incident could even just be as simple as a look. And that’s it. That’s enough to set a story where a man realizes that his wife is cheating on him in motion. That’s all it takes. So unless you are truly and absolutely stuck, I strongly advise that you Save The Cat for your second draft and afterwards.

If you do have a completed script, and would like to see how it stacks up against Save The Cat model, order an STC Beat Sheet script analysis here.
Did you enjoy reading this? Did you find it useful? What are your own experiences with the STC Beat sheet? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to like and share!