Save the Cat plotting has taken the writing world by a storm, and for good reason too. You may, or may not have heard of this technique, but it is a specific way of plotting your story. In this article you'll find out more about Save the Cat writing, and I'll link to the beat sheets that I use myself.
What is Save the Cat?
It's difficult to pinpoint who came up with the original Save the Cat technique, however research suggests that it was first used by film director, Blake Snyder, to plan the frames of a movie or season. Later, author Jessica Brody adapted this technique to translate into a writing resource for writers looking to plot their novel. You can find Jessica's Save the Cat book on Amazon.
How is it used?
The formula splits up key points of any story, The technique splits up key points of any story that is more detailed and defined, rather than splitting your story into beginning, middle, end. Essentially, it's an easy-to-follow guide that ensures you've not missed any important moments when planning your novel.
There are 15 story scenes called beats that shows where these important moments and plotting should go. These are the following;
Opening Image - 0 - 1%
The opening image is a simple scene that shows what the protagonist's 'before' is. How are they living their life before they are plunged on their journey?
Theme Stated - 5%
This is a single-scene beat that someone (usually not the protagonist) says that hints at the lesson the protagonist will have to learn by the end of the story.
The Setup - 1 - 10%
The Setup consists of multiple scenes that show what the hero's life looks like before their epic transformation, and allows room to introduce other supporting characters, as well as highlight what your protagonist's primary goal is. It's important at this point to show your protagonist's reluctance to change and hint at the stakes as to why this might be.
The Catalyst - 10%
This is the all-important life changing event that catapults the protagonist into their new world or new way of thinking. It has to be an action event big enough to prevent the hero from being able to return to status quo life.
Game of Thrones Spoiler - You've been warned.
The Catalyst in Season One of GOT, would be when *King* Joffrey Baratheon orders Eddark Stark be beheaded, essentially causing the entire rise and eventual fall of King's Landing.
Debate - 10 - 20%
This section involved multiple chapters for the protagonist to reach to what happened in the Catalyst and the protagonist debates what to do next. This is usually presented in the form of a question, 'Should I leave?', 'Do I tell them?'. The purposed of this beat is to show the protagonist's reluctance to change and make the decision feel realistic.
Break into Two - 20%
This is the moment when the protagonist decides to accept the call to action, whether they leave their comfort zone or venture into a new way of thinking. This separates the world in Act 1, and essentially introduces an 'upside down' world in Act 2. The protagonist has a new, modified goal to work towards which they are constantly pursuing in the first half.
B Story - 22%
Here you will introduce new characters who will help your protagonist learn a new theme or life lesson. Characters introduced could be a love interest, friends, teachers, royalty and so on.
Fun and Games - 20 - 50%
The section contains multiple chapters where we see the protagonist live in their new 'upside down' world. How is this new world treating them? Are they loving or hating this new world? We also see our protagonist pursuing, making strides or struggling to achieve their goal. Most importantly, this part represents the 'hook' of the novel, and highlights the reasons why your readers picked up your book to read in the first place.
Midpoint - 50%
This is a single scene beat where your fun and games either ends in a false victory or a false defeat. Something else should happen to raise the stakes and push the protagonist towards real change. You can include plot twists, shocking reveals, ramp-ups of love, and whatever else brings value to the story.
The Bad Close In - 50 - 75%
If midpoint was a false victory - this section will be a downward path where things get predominantly worse.
If midpoint was a false defeat - this section will be an upwards path where things get better.
The bad doesn't necessarily relate to the antagonists but more so the internal thoughts of the protagonist. The protagonist's deep-rooted flaws and fears close-in and they have a new or modified goal to pursue.
All is Lost - 75%
This is the lowest point of the novel and is an action beat where something happens, combined with hero's internal 'bad' thoughts, pushes them to rock bottom. There is commonly a 'whiff of death' at this point, whether it be literal or metaphorical - it could symbolise the 'death' of the old protagonist and rebirth of a transformed one.
Dark Night of Soul - 75 - 80%
This section is a reaction beat where the protagonist takes time to process everything that has happened. At this point they should be in a worse position than they were at the start of the novel. This point will feel like the protagonists darkest hour, but really it is the darkness before the dawn. It's the moment before the protagonist finds the solution and, at this point, the hero will finally learn their life lesson.
Break into Act 3 - 80%
This beat is where the protagonist has their 'aha!' moment. They'll realise what they must do to fix the problems created in Act 2 and fix themselves in the process. At this point, the character arc is nearly complete.
The Finale - 80% - 99%
In this section, the protagonist must prove that they have learned the theme or life lesson by enacting the plan they came up with in the break into act 3 section. The antagonist(s) are destroyed, flaws are conquered, lovers and reunited. Not only has the protagonist's world be saved but it is also in a better place than it was before.
Final Image - 100%
This beat mirrors the opening image and shows an 'after' snapshot of who the protagonist is after going through their epic and satisfying transformation. You'll also show a visual representation of the protagonist's life after their excited journey, which has changed them for the better.
Beat Sheet Calculator
To help you figure out what beats should be where, use this helpful calculator. All you have to do is input your desired word count, and it will tell you what pages your beats should be on. Click here to go to the calculator.
Download the beat sheets
To help you plan your story using the Save the Cat formula, I've created downloadable beat sheets which you can print and fill in the boxes. Please click the attachment below to download.