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Weekend Writer: Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: Chapter Two – The Save the Cat! Beat Sheet aka The End of All Your Plotting Problems (Part Two) by Jessica Brody

Hey all, Sam here.

It’s a weekend of focusing on creative writing…and you know what? I’m totally okay with that. Sure, I had loosely planned to post up some book reviews, but I’m feeling very inspired to talk about creative writing, and so it’s just going to be three days straight of Weekend Writer. Next week I can make sure I get at least a couple reviews written up and scheduled.

And I’m thinking I might do a little weekend readathon for myself in a couple weeks. It has been my routine these past few years to spend Memorial Day weekend reading a bunch of books, eating some good food, and mostly disconnecting from the internet. Normally that is because we are spending the weekend with David’s grandparents in the Hocking Hills area of Ohio (where the phone and internet signal is not super great). We can’t make it back there this year, which is really sad, but I can still try and disconnect myself from the internet and focus on some book reading. So, look for random posts on my Instagram (@SamRushingBooks) May 26-May 29th, and we’ll see if I can improve even more on my Goodreads Reading Challenge.

For now though, now I should probably jump back into Chapter Two of our current writing craft book, because I only covered like 20 of the 57 pages yesterday. So let’s get back to it.

SAVE THE CAT!® by Blake Snyder is a popular screenwriting book series and storytelling methodology used by screenwriters, directors, and studio execs across Hollywood. Now, for the first time ever, bestselling author and writing teacher, Jessica Brody, takes the beloved Save the Cat! plotting principals and applies them to the craft of novel writing in this exciting new “workshop style” guide, featuring over 20 full beat sheets from popular novels throughout time.

Whether you’re writing your first novel or your seventeenth, Save the Cat! breaks down plot in an easy-to-follow, step-by-step method so you can write stories that resonate! This book can help you with any of the following:

Outlining a new novel
Revising an existing novel
Breaking out of the dreaded “writer’s block”
Fixing a “broken” novel
Reviewing a completed novel
Fleshing out/test driving a new idea to see if it “has legs”
Implementing feedback from agents and/or editors
Helping give constructive feedback to other writers

But above all else, SAVE THE CAT! WRITES A NOVEL will help you better understand the fundamentals and mechanics of plot, character transformation, and what makes a story work!

Chapter Two: The Save the Cat! Beat Sheet aka The End of All Your Plotting Problems

Okay, when we left off last, we had just finished talking about the beats of Act One. If you missed yesterday’s post, you can find it here.

Act Two

Brody says there’s something very important that we all need to know when it comes to the difference between Act One and Act Two…Act Two is the complete opposite. Brody states that she has seen many a wonderful book fall apart in Act Two because the author forgot to build this crucial element into the story, making Act Two as different as possible from Act One.

6. Break Into 2

This beat brings the hero into the upside-down world that is Act Two, and the hero will try to fix things, but they’ll do it the wrong way. And this story beat should happen around the 20% mark, and Brody states that this moment, this break between Acts should happen definitively and clearly by the time you are a quarter of the way through your novel.

It’s important to note that heroes don’t have to physically go anywhere in order to Break Into 2. But they do have to try something new. A new relationship, a new way of approaching life, a new job, a new persona at school. Regardless of whether your hero goes on a literal journey or a metaphorical one, the Break Into 2 is the moment when we leave the old world and old way of thinking behind and step into a new world and new way of thinking. It’s a single-scene beat. You get one scene or chapter to break your hero into Act 2. That’s it. So make it a good, effective break.

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Even though you’ve set your hero up in Act One to be flawed, this is where we give the reader something worth reading about, where we show that there is something in the hero that is worth rooting for. But your hero still doesn’t know how to fix their life. Here in Act Two, the hero is still motivated by what they want, still not acknowledging that what they want isn’t what they need.

So that is why Act Two is all about fixing things the wrong way. But hey, at least they’re trying to solve the problem, right? Of course they don’t have all the information yet. The hero is still fueled by the external story elements. These are things that we want to see, because stories shouldn’t be all themes and life lessons. There should be some fun to it, which will be covered in a couple beats, but we have to talk about the B story, which is next.

7. B Story

This beat introduces the character who will represent the B story/theme and then help the hero learn it. And this usually happens right after the Break Into 2, but could technically come earlier. Just make sure that it happens in the first 25% of the book.

Now, the characters introduced as the A Story don’t have to disappear with the introduction of the B Story characters, but they will take a bit of a backseat to these newer characters.

Our B story characters are helper characters, who are meant to help the hero learn the theme. Most of the time this B Story character will be a love interest, a new friend, a mentor, or a nemesis. The two important details for a good B Story character is that they must in some way represent the world of Act Two and they must in some way guide the hero toward their life lesson or theme.

The reason this character needs to happen in Act Two is because the hero can’t learn their lesson and complete their lesson in Act One. They need to start their transformative journey. While the B Story character is introduced in a single-scene beat, they will appear throughout Act Two and possibly into Act Three as well.

And of course, you can introduce many characters in Act Two, but there will only be one who plays the special role of being the B Story character.

8. Fun and Games

This huge multi-scene beat delivers on the promise of the premise of the novel and shows how the hero is faring in the world of Act Two. This beat spans from 20%-50% of your novel.

Brody says that this section is probably the reason why readers picked up the story in the first place.

The key to figuring out the Fun and Games beat is realizing that this part of the story might be fun only for the reader. Not necessarily for the hero.

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Because the Fun and Games section doesn’t necessarily mean that it is fun, but it should be entertaining. The Fun and Games section of The Hunger Games is the Tributes in the arena and hunting and killing each other. Reading about that struggle in the arena is captivating and engaging.

The Fun and Games beat is where your hero either shines in their new world or they flounder in it. Those are the only options. The hero is either loving what is going on or they are hating it.

While the Fun and Games shouldn’t be all struggle or all success, it should have varying action and varying moments of ups and downs. This is what Brody calls the bouncing ball narrative. The hero is up and then the hero is down. They succeed and then they fail. This is how you make this section of the story fun and engaging.

However, regardless of how many ups and downs there are, overall there should be a general path you’re following, either heading on an upward path towards success or a downward path towards failure.

The general direction of your Fun and Games is a critical decision to be made as you structure your novel. Because as you’ll soon see, whichever path you choose for this beat–upward or downward–will ultimately define not only the next beat (the Midpoint) but the rest of the second act.

page 49

9. Midpoint

Marking the middle of the novel, this beat is either a false defeat or a false victory while also raising the stakes for the story. And obviously, since this is the midpoint, it should happen at the 50% mark.

The Midpoint is magic. It’s the pivot point in the story. The nail in the wall on which all other beats hang. It is precisely the center of the hero’s transformative arc, and we must use that to our advantage and make the middle as dynamic and exciting as possible.

page 50

For the most part, the Midpoint is a single-scene beat where the hero experiences a false victory or a false defeat, the stakes of the story are raised, and the A Story and B Story intersect in some way.

This is the culmination of the hero’s trajectory during the Fun and Games portion. If they were mostly succeeding and thriving, then they’ll experience a false victory. It is false because the story isn’t over yet, and your hero hasn’t actually learned the theme yet.

Or if they were really struggling in the Fun and Games bit, then they’ll reach a real low point and experience a false defeat. The hero might think that their life is over because they haven’t gotten what they want, this thing they thought would fix things. But obviously there’s more for them to learn and do.

From page 53 to page 55, Brody shows off several different ways to raise the stakes with your story, featuring various general themes of story. The examples given show the shift from wants to needs for the hero.

Basically the Midpoint changes things for the hero, and it changes the trajectory of the story. Much like the Catalyst, the Midpoint makes it so the hero can’t go back to where they were before this.

10. Bad Guys Close In

This next beat provides a place for the hero to rebound after the Midpoint, while their flaws close in a bit more. And this multi-scene beat takes us from 50% to 75% of your novel.

Overall Act Two is a beast of a section, because it takes up more than half of your novel. Brody says that if done right, then this beat could be some of the most exciting pages of your book. This beat is named after the sequence in an action movie where the bad guys regroup after failing to enact their plan in the midpoint and then come back with more guys, more weapons, and more organized.

If the Midpoint was a false victory, then this segment should be a downward path towards the next beat, so things get worse and worse for your hero. Or if it was a false defeat then things are getting better and your hero is improving and conquering obstacles. No matter what path they’re on, make sure to throw in more of those bouncing balls to keep things lively.

11. All is Lost

Here we go, rock bottom with this beat, illustrating the lowest moment of the story. This should take place around 75% in your novel.

At this point your hero has seemingly lost everything that’s important to them and they can’t see the true path. Basically you need to drop them so low that they have no other option but to change.

Whatever it is, it’s BIG. Even bigger than the Catalyst! It seems insurmountable. Your hero must be worse off than they were at the start of the book.

All really does seem lost.

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Don’t be afraid to really do awful things to your hero. Kill people, break people up, whatever. Your All is Lost moment has to be big.

Basically something has to end here. This is where the old world/character/way of thinking ends so that the new can be born. But whatever happens, it should at least in some way, be your hero’s fault. This is what makes them learn their lesson and reflect on the choices they’ve made that led to this moment.

12. Dark Night of the Soul

Welcome to the beat that shows how the hero reacts to the All is Lost, which leads them to figuring out a resolution, and this should take from 75% to 80%.

Your hero should wallow here. They sit around or walk around and just generally feel hopeless and sorry for themselves. Of course, some heroes get angry at this point, or slip into denial. Each hero will react based on who they are as a person. Where the All is Lost is a single-scene beat, happening quickly, but this beat is where what happened starts to seep in.

This is the darkness before the dawn. The final clues fall into place and revelations and epiphanies come to light.

What will your hero do now?

This is the only beat where you can let your hero move backwards instead of forwards. If it is possible, then take your hero back to where they started. Because when you’re wallowing, you just want to be somewhere familiar and reassuring. But returning to what is familiar also shines a light on how much the hero has changed from their journey, and even being somewhere that should be familiar just makes them feel out of place.

This is where they realize that there’s something they need to fix, to change about themselves and their situation.

Act Three

Here we are at the final act, which should be a fusion of the world from Act One and the world from Act Two.

“Who the hero was in Act 1 + What they’ve learned in Act 2 = Who they will become in Act 3”

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Here is where relationships are mended, and the A Story and B Story meet again, but this is where the stories become one. It’s the combining of all the elements from the previous acts to create a act that will resonate with the readers.

13. Break Into 3

This beat brings the hero into the world of Act Three where they can finally fix things in the right way, and it should be around the 80% mark.

Break Into 3 is literally a breakthrough. No more shortcuts or cheats. No avoiding bigger issues. Your hero has lost everything and now they know what they have to do to fix things in the right way.

The Break Into 3 almost always includes the following realization for the hero: It was never them who had to change; it was always me.

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Here the hero realizes that they are flawed and that they can fix their flaws. It is a single-scene beat that will guide your hero and the readers into the final act.

14. Finale

Welcome to resolving the problems that were created in Act Two and prove that the hero has learned the theme, learned the lesson, and they have been transformed by their journey. This beat takes up the 80%-99% portion of your novel.

While the hero has realized what they have to do, this multi-scene beat is them actually doing it. Here, on pages 68-71, Brody breaks down the Five-Point Finale. If you want the full details, pick up this book yourself. I’m just going to do a listing of the points.

  1. Gathering the Team
  2. Executing the Plan
  3. The High Tower Surprise
  4. Dig Deep Down
  5. The Execution of the New Plan

Is the Five-Point Finale necessary? No, but Brody recommends at least giving it a try at least once. These points will help you focus your story and bring it towards a rewarding conclusion.

15. Final Image

This final beat is a mirror to the first, and it gives a snapshot of your hero and their life to showcase how much they’ve changed from this journey, and it should be the final scene or chapter of your book, taking up the 99%-100% of your novel.

How far has your hero come? What have they learned from their journey? How much have they grown and changed? What does their life look like now? How did they transform?

In the end, that is what all great stories do. They reprogram heroes. They transform human beings. And the beat sheet is essentially your reprogramming manual. It shows you which wires to cut, which code to alter, and in what order.

Pretty cool, huh?

But wait! Do the beats have to come in the exact same order that I outlined in this chapter?

Not necessarily.

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This will be covered a little bit in future chapters, but the main point is that all the beats are there in pretty much every single great story ever told.

Well, that is all from me for today. Thank you so much for stopping by, and I’ll be back soon with more geeky content.


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