An Overview of Save the Cat

At the heart of the STC methodology is its famous beat sheet. It is truly the best outlining method I’ve ever used. If the word “outline” makes you nervous, think of it as story preparation. Or as “possible destinations” on a roadtrip.

Imagine you’re taking a roadtrip across country. Maybe you plot out a bunch of interesting places you might like to see, like the world’s largest ball of yarn, and the site of the filming of Dances with Wolves. You plot those spots on your map, but you’re not dying to see them. If you don’t make it, it’s no big deal—maybe you’ll find something else better along the way and choose it instead.

That’s exactly how the beat sheet operates. So don’t freak out. Just let it gently guide you. :)

The Beat Sheet consists of three Acts or Parts, fifteen beats or plot points, and all awesomeness. Grab a copy of the beat sheet in the Files section of this page, enter a couple sentences under each beat to describe what you think should happen there, and you’re rollin’! *Note: the percentages listed are where in your book these beats should happen.

ACT 1 – The “thesis” world, or “things as they are.” 1. Opening Image (0 – 1%): A “before” snapshot of your hero and their world. 2. Theme Stated (5%): A statement made by a character (usually not the hero) that hints at what the hero’s arc will be—the life lesson he must learn or discover before the end of the book. 3. Setup (1 – 10%): A view of what the hero’s life as it currently is, including what’s missing from his life. Here we meet the supporting characters and learn the hero’s primary goal. In addition to the theme, we see why the hero is reluctant to change and what the stakes are should the hero not change. 4. Catalyst (10%): An inciting incident or life-changing event. This is an “action” beat that forces the hero to leave behind the world of the setup and move forward into the unknown. 5. Debate (10 – 20%): A reaction sequence in which the hero debates what they will do next. The purpose of this beat is to show the hero’s reluctance to change.

ACT 2 – The “antithesis” or “upside down” world. 6. Break into 2 (20%): The moment the hero decides to accept the call to action, leave their comfort zone and move forward into a new world or new way of thinking. This is also an action beat that requires a purposeful choice on the part of the hero. 7. B Story (22%): The introduction of a new character or characters who ultimately help the hero learn the theme. This could be a love interest, sidekick, nemesis, etc. 8. Fun and Games (20 – 50%): The hero in his new world, and he’s either loving it or hating it. This is where the adventure happens and new skills are learned. 9. Midpoint (50%): Literally the middle of the novel, where the Fun and Games culminates in either a false victory or false defeat. Suddenly the stakes are raised and the clock starts ticking down… 10. Bad Guys Close In (50 – 75%): If the Midpoint was a false victory, this section will be a downward path for the hero and things get progressively worse. If a false defeat, things start to look up—except the hero’s deep-rooted flaws (internal bad guys) are closing in. 11. All is Lost (75%): The lowest point of the novel. Another action beat where something happens to the hero that combined with her internal bad guys, pushes the hero to rock bottom. 12. Dark Night of the Soul (75 – 80%): A reaction beat where the hero takes time to process everything that’s happened so far. The hero should be worse off than at the start of the novel and this is their “dark hour before the dawn” when the hero figures out the solution to their big problem and learns the theme/life lesson.

ACT 3 – the “synthesis” world where Act 1 and Act 2 meet, combine, and create something new. 13. Break into 3 (80%): The “aha!” moment. The hero realizes what they have to do to not only fix all the problems created in Act 2, but also to fix themselves. 14. Finale (80 – 99%): The hero proves they have learned the lesson and enacts the plan they came up with in Break into 3. Bad guys are destroyed, flaws are conquered. Not only is the hero’s world saved, but it’s a better place than it was before. 15. Final Image (99 – 100%): A mirror to the Opening Image, this is the “after” snapshot of who the hero is after going through this epic and satisfying transformation.

This week, join me on Friday at 3:00 MST for a LIVE chat! I’ll talk about the awesomeness that is STC and the Beat Sheet overview. AND I’ll have a prize for those who join me! ALSO, fill out your beat sheet and post it here in the comments, and this week only, I’ll take a look at them and offer guidance.