Melissa Ford Lucken
The Save the Cat! structure is a storytelling formula introduced by screenwriter Blake Snyder in his book “Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need.” It provides a blueprint for creating engaging and marketable screenplays by identifying key story beats and character arcs.
Here’s a detailed description of the Save the Cat! structure:
Opening Image: The screenplay begins with a captivating opening image that establishes the tone, setting, and often introduces the protagonist. It should grab the audience’s attention and set the stage for the story.
Theme Stated: Early on, a line of dialogue or a moment highlights the theme or central message of the story. It serves as a thematic setup that will be explored throughout the screenplay.
Set-up: This section introduces the protagonist’s ordinary world, their goals, and the conflicts they face. It establishes their personal life, relationships, and desires, while also introducing the primary external conflict.
Catalyst: The catalyst is a significant event or decision that disrupts the protagonist’s ordinary life. It sets them on a new path and presents an opportunity or challenge that they must address.
Debate: The protagonist wrestles with the decision or opportunity presented by the catalyst. They may express doubts, fears, or conflicting desires, leading to an internal debate.
Break into Two: The protagonist makes a definitive choice or takes action to pursue their goal. They leave their ordinary world and enter a new environment, often with new allies or resources.
B Story: The B Story introduces a secondary plotline, often involving a romantic interest, friendship, or mentorship. It provides additional depth to the protagonist’s journey and offers emotional support or conflict.
Fun and Games: This section showcases the enjoyment, excitement, and initial progress the protagonist experiences in pursuing their goal. It can include thrilling moments, comedic scenes, or action sequences that engage the audience.
Midpoint: The midpoint is a significant turning point that shifts the story in a new direction. It may involve a major revelation, a setback, or a confrontation that alters the protagonist’s perception or strategy.
Bad Guys Close In: As the story progresses, the antagonist or opposing forces intensify their efforts to hinder the protagonist’s progress. Challenges and obstacles become more difficult, and the protagonist faces increasing pressure.
All Is Lost: The all is lost moment is a dark and critical point where the protagonist’s goal seems unattainable. They experience a major setback or loss, and it appears that all hope is gone.
Dark Night of the Soul: The protagonist faces internal turmoil, doubt, and despair in the aftermath of the all is lost moment. They must confront their weaknesses, make difficult choices, or find the strength to continue.
Break into Three: Inspired by a revelation, an external event, or a renewed sense of purpose, the protagonist gathers their strength and formulates a new plan to confront the antagonist or overcome the conflict.
Finale: The protagonist engages in a final showdown or confrontation with the antagonist, facing their biggest challenge. This climactic sequence tests their growth, determination, and the lessons they have learned.
Final Image: The screenplay concludes with a closing image that reflects the transformation and resolution of the story. It may contrast with the opening image or provide a satisfying sense of closure.
The Save the Cat structure is primarily designed for screenwriting but can also be applied to other narrative forms. It provides a framework for crafting well-paced stories with clear character arcs and engaging plot developments.