Save the Cat!

I came across a book and software called Save the Cat! Did anybody use this and is it useful enough in developing a good story to buy it?

ANdré

André
Do a Scriv Search for Save the Cat. It`s been covered quite extensively
Take care
vic

Hi Vic,
I searched for it on the forum here, but I was wondering only if the result of using this system is a good outlined story. Making an outline in Scrivener is o fcourse not a problem at all.

André

It depends what you want to write of course, but if you’re working on a real genre movie or something quite generic Save the Cat is quite a useful structuring tool for screenplays in combination with other structural models like Syd Field’s Three Act Paradigm and John Truby’s 22 Step Structure.

Save the Cat and Syd Field’s model both adhere very closely to the notion of four roughly equal segments (Act 1, Act 2 to Midpoint, Act 2 part 2, Act 3) and pinch points within each segment to keep action moving right along. This is a useful structure to try to follow, but it’s important not to get too caught up in it. Yes - there is something inherently aesthetically satisfying about the 1:2:1 form, and yes a lot of films use the structure (a staggering number - by far the majority as far as I can tell) but it’s no replacement for first working out the events of your story organically based on the conflicting desires and actions of the characters.

I found the Save the Cat software interesting to play with for about three days, but it’s a very simple structural paradigm compared to Truby, and only really valuable IMHO for tweaking a structure that you might be struggling with. If I were you I’d forget the software and just write down the 16 beats or whatever it is from the book, and refer to them if you get stuck for inspiration. To be honest I think you’re much better off studying the structure of five to ten other films in the same genre as yours.

Not sure how much the book and software is, but I’d go to about £20 ($40) for the two and somehow I suspect it’s more expensive than that. My vote: save your money and buy a bunch of DVDs instead.

Thanks for your info. I am always excited at the start when I find some system because it feels so secure: filling in the blanks and viola! But during the outlining, I always start to get of track because my story doesn’t fit precisely in the structure. I read a lot about the Writer’s Journey and think this still feels the best for me to hang up my starting story.

At the moment, I am trying to fit Raiders of the lost Ark into a model I found somewhere that tells that certain things always happens on a specific page, like sidekick comes in on page 15, Hero meets step-4 sidekick on side 45, mentor dies on pag 75, etc… (I forgot who teaches this system), based on the Hero’s Journey, and… it doesn’t fit.

I try to figure out the smaller elements of a story now, how does a beat works, how many beats used in a scene, things like that. So many things to learn…

Andreas:

STC is both the best and the worst of these kinds of systems, in my experience. It’s an interesting “reverse engineered” model for looking at finished screenplays, to be sure. But as a guide during the writing, I agree with others who say that you’re better off internalizing screenplay structure by watching a lot of movies, then doing the work yourself. If you’re like me (God, I hope not, for your sake), it’s easy to get sidetracked with worries about making certain events happen on certain pages – and that’s not a fun or rewarding way to write. It’s a hell of a good way to procrastinate, though.

One side note: Watching films with awareness is a fine exercise, but nothing’s better than reading screenplays you respect – preferably while you’re watching the movie itself. Google the name of a screenplay you’re interested in, plus the word “script”, plus “pdf”. You’ll find hundreds of great (free!) examples.

Reading a script is SO much different than merely watching a film. You’ll soon see that what seems abbreviated on the page may not be so in the final execution. The reading/watching method gives you a good indication of just how much (really, how little) you need to say in a given scene.

  • When you’re done with your script, use STC to kind of “check your work.” You’ll find, I think, that you came closer to that structure than you thought you did. Many times, you can specifically conform your script to the STC method with a little housecleaning – killing unnecessary camera direction, tightening your action to eliminate widows, cutting long paragraphs into two. But that’s not writing, that’s editing for form – but there are producers who really do look to form before they’ll take the time to deal with content.

Thanks Sean, what about The Writer’s Journey? I’m afraid that this system is used to death but it seems to fit to most stories. I wrote two novels with this system as used in the software program Story Craft on the pc some years ago. I thought at that time it was a great way of writing. I am reading the end conclusions in Voglers book at the moment, he is talking about the Titanic and it’s an interesting read.

I’m only fleetingly familiar with Writer’s Journey. I have to say, though, that I am inherently skeptical of any system that looks over your shoulder while you write – especially when it comes to novels, which are so (wonderfully) varied when it comes to form.

A story that may relate: I’ve read quite a few interviews with screenwriters who have adapted books to film. A lot of them say they lock themselves away, read the novel at hand three or four times, make a few notes here and there – then they put the book back on the shelf and write the screenplay from memory. The idea here is that they internalize the story, making its rhythms and characters and events second nature to them, almost like it happened to them. That way, they’re free to write (rather than transcribe).

I wonder if this isn’t a good way to approach stuff like Writer’s Journey and STC? Get familiar with the ideas that you find most valuable, then put the book away and start writing?

Just a though.

I want to weigh in again and talk about The Hero’s Journey because it bugs me that it’s become for a lot of people somehow akin to screenplay structure tools like STC or Syd Field. In truth it is nothing of the sort and has very little in common with them.

Basically where structural tools can help you plot emotional intensity / jeopardy over time, THJ is prescriptive of the actual events of your story. One assists with structure, one prescribes form.

Moreover any technique which attempts to guide you as to what types of events should happen at which point in the story is necessarily going to come up short. And so it is with THJ which helps with some ‘myth’ type stories, but can’t begin to describe 90% of modern drama as we know it. Pick a few films at random from various genres and try to apply the journey model to them - it doesn’t work in any meaningful sense. Any correlation is very likely a real stretch of imagination.

The archetype characters are useful and it’s definitely good to know THJ in some detail for when a twenty-five year old development exec starts telling you you should use it (run) but to think it can describe all stories or is even likely to be the best model for your story is just wrong in my opinion.

A few months ago I was asked by a friend to look over their script and frankly it needed a lot of work. I spent the rest of the day collating various great screenwriting tips I’d collected over the years and sent them on, specified to her script in great detail. Her reply? “Thanks, but I use the Hero’s Journey.”

After going back and looking at it again all I could find of THJ in her script were a lot of gatekeepers.

I died inside a little.

Thanks for the input. I agree that I always have to use a lot of imagination to get the steps somehow connected to a story, still I can’t help it that I like this way of looking at stories. Maybe it’s the whole old feeling of “myth” that attracts me. I used it in my two books only as guides though I did changed a lot during the writing.

One strange thing that I could not understand at all the way Story Craft uses THJ is that in act one and three, every step needs to have 17 beats, in the second act every step needs to have 34 beats. I did it like this during the online course with my books but I really had to smear out and invent a lot of beats/events, that I maybe never would have used without this rule.

Just now, I watched The Wedding Crashers with the Save the Cat" beat sheet in my hand with all the page numbers it showed for every step; it totally didn’t fit the way it was shown in the movie.

… getting lost here…

Systems seem only perect on the website stores.

André

Yeah I think the trick is to write a draft, read a screenplay book, write a draft, read another screenplay book and so on. They all (mostly) have something to offer even if it’s just a new way of looking at your story. My two current personal favourite story tools:

I highly recommend John Truby - his 22 Steps are very well thought out although they do (as he advertises in fact) really fit ‘blockbuster’ style scripts best. Trouble is he’s never written a book so you’ll have to either go on his course or scour the internet for his material. There’s a very long series of audiotapes (over 12 hours’ worth if memory serves) which I found on Limewire, maybe you can try other filesharing or bittorrent sites if you’re on a budget.

Truby’s Four Necessities are key tools for me early in the writing process too. They are, briefly: The NEED, the INCITING INCIDENT, the DESIRE, and the OPPONENT – and each of these four elements must be intimately and necessarily connected to the others for your story to work as well as it can.

NEED: what the character needs to fulfil them and create a good life. They will not fulfil this need until the end of the story. It is usually unconscious, and until they fix this aspect of themselves they’re acting immorally / hurting someone / hurting society by their actions.

The necessary DESIRE LINE is the one that will eventually cause your hero to address his NEED when he realises he cannot get what he wants by remaining who he was. It also guarantees your hero runs smack into his OPPONENT.

The INCITING INCIDENT is the thing early in the story that upsets your hero’s world and causes them to come up with a goal. Again, you have to find the necessary Inciting Incident. This is the singular event that creates the conditions for the hero to create their DESIRE LINE towards the goal (which eventually causes your hero to confront his NEED if he is to succeed).

The necessary OPPONENT is the one person in the whole world who is best able to attack the hero’s main weaknesses (and ultimately confront his NEED). He is also competing for the same goal (otherwise everyone could get what they want and the story would be over). Tying the Opponent tightly together with the INCITING INCIDENT often (but not always) results in stories in which the Opponent is subsequently discovered to be the cause of the Inciting Incident.

/

As you can see it’s ‘formulaic’, but only to the point that it guarantees depth of character, desire and conflict, so maybe that’s no bad thing. It may be valid to say the tighter the Four Necessities the more ‘blockbuster’ your story, but I’ll leave that to individual writers to consider. For my money this is the most powerful structural paradigm of them all, so that’s why I’m sharing it here.

I can also very strongly recommend Laurie Hutzler’s website emotionaltoolbox.com for some incredible insights into creating realistic characters and conflict dynamics. The site is really badly organised but it’s worth persevering through all the articles because it’s very powerful stuff once you figure out what she’s on about. Essentially her tools allow you to explore the depth and breadth of your characters and create realistic and escalating conflicts within the parameters of your story, and there are even tips on when to expose each of your character’s glitches to the audience for maximum effect.

While we’re doing this does anyone else have story tools they swear by and want to share?

Thanks so much for all this info, I checked out John Truby but it’s difficult to find more info about it without buying his software packages. (I searched with Lime as well, but there is nothing), I did find something called 188 steps that is aligned along the hero’s journey.
clickok.co.uk/index4.html

Yep, more reading than writing at the moment… but it’s vacation, I think it’s good for the brain to get some rest 8)

André

188 steps… good lord.

I’m not sure it’s good to think in that way when you’re actually creating stuff, because while having some constraints will help you avoid dead ends, too many will just make you think analytically which will curb your ability to come up with new stuff. As someone said upthread, they can be useful for reviewing drafts through a different lens though.

Save The Cat at least has the benefit of being written by someone who’s sold scripts, and focuses on ‘this happens to the character/story’ rather than page numbers. And Snyder’s take on genres is more useful for writers (again as analysis) than the media studies ‘thriller’, ‘romance’, ‘comedy’ versions.

EDIT

I just checked out the Emotional Toolbox site. It might be good, but I’m put off a bit by anyone repeatedly offering The Answer, as she does. Especially when she makes a point of explaining how the story of Oliver Twist ‘doesn’t work’. If only Dickens had been able to benefit from her services, Oliver Twist would’ve been a huge international phenomenan with audiences hanging in suspense for the next episode. Who knows, Dickens might’ve gone on to be a towering giant and somehow managed to blend commerical and artistic success. If only he’d had the benefit of her website…

Based on what I now remember of Year 12 Specialist Maths, that may be one of the more accurate slip-ups I have seen of late :smiley:

What’s goo for the brain is goo for the gander.

–gr

Thread cross-current: [url]Favorite Cliches?]

If your script varies from the 120 page number (above) you can go to the source and work out the closest approximation by using this Beat Sheet calculator:

Beat Sheet Calculator
rareform.com/screenplay-editor/beats.php

Say, for example, you wanted to fit Phil Gladwin’s beat system to Blake Snyder’s System. it would look something like this for a 110 page script:

  1. Opening Image (1):
  • Normal Life
  1. Theme Stated (Establish Theme) (5):
  • Create Your Battle
  • Obstacles And Comebacks
  1. Set-up (1-10):
  • Familiar Problem
  1. Catalyst (Inciting Incident) (12):
  • Inciting Incident
  1. Debate (Debate - Half Commitment) (12-25):
  • Unusual Problem
  • Massive Problem
  1. Break into 2 (Turn to Act II) (25)
  • Hero’s Plan
  • Villain’s Plan
  1. B Story (Subplot intro) (30):

  2. Fun and Games (Puzzles) (30-55):

  • Hero and Villain Execute Their Plans
  1. Midpoint (Tent-pole - Midpoint - Reversal) (55):
  • Hero Acts Immorally
  1. Bad Guys Close In (Enemy Closes In) (55-75):
  • Warning Shot
  1. All Is Lost (Low Point) (75):
  • Brush With Death
  1. Dark Night of the Soul (Darkest Decision) (75-85):
  • Total Defeat
  • The Escape Hatch
  1. Break into 3 (Turn to Act III) (85):
  • Final Showdown
  • Hero’s Revelation
  1. Finale (Aftermath) (85-110):
  • The Hero’s Choice
  1. Final Image (110):
  • Coda

These slide up and down a bit depending on your story.

Beats 14 and 15 are the only ones that invite closer brain work - still, the terms (aftermath, final image and coda) mean virtually the same thing.

Blake Snyder (the source of the above beat system) says that the names mean:

Opening Image – This is fairly self-explanatory; it’s the scene in the movie that sets up the tone, type, and initial salvo of a film — and it’s the opposite of the Final Image.
Theme Stated – Also easy. Usually spoken to the main character, often without his knowing what is said will be vital to his surviving this tale. It’s what your movie is “about.”
Set-up – The first 10 pages of a script must not only grab our interest — and a studio reader’s — but introduce or hint at introducing every character in the A story.
Catalyst – The telegram, the knock at the door, the act of catching your wife in bed with another, and suddenly you know your life has changed. It’s the movie’s first “whammy.”
Debate – The section of the script, be it a scene or a series of them, when a hero doubts the journey he must take.
Break into Two – Act Two, that is, and it is where we leave the “Thesis” world behind and enter the upside-down “Antithesis” world of Act Two. Let the journey begin!
B Story – The “love” story, traditionally, but actually where discussion about the theme of a good movie is found.
Fun and Games – Where we find “set pieces,” trailer moments, and the “promise of the premise.”
Midpoint – The dividing line between the two halves of a movie, the part where “fun and games” end, where the “stakes are raised,” and where the going gets tough for our hero(es).
Bad Guys Close In – Both internally (problems inside the hero’s team) and externally (as actual bad guys tighten their grip), that part of the film where pressure is applied.
All Is Lost – The “False Defeat” and the place where you find “the whiff of death” — because something must die here.
Dark Night of the Soul – Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? That part of the script where the hero has lost all hope…
Break into Three – …but not for long! Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or a last-minute word of advice from the love interest in the B Story, the hero chooses to fight.
Finale – The Synthesis of two worlds: from that which was, and that which has been learned, the hero forges a new world.
Final Image – The opposite of the Opening Image, proving that a change has occurred. And since ALL stories are about “transformation,” that change had better be dramatic!

Also go here for a fuller explanation that might be helpful.
screenwritinggoldmine.com/fo … ght=snyder

(Source: Save the Cat, Blake Snyder)

Hi,
Thanks for so much information! I checked the links as well. They are of a great help.

André

Btw,
just my thoughts on using a template like Save the Cat.

I believe that writing a movie screenplay shouldn’t been seen the same way as writing a novel. In a novel I’m am free to do whatever I want, but a screenplay is something that you write for someone else. And that someone else is expecting the script to be written in a format they are used to, meaning something like writing by numbers as Save the Cat does. I am comparing it again to my musical writing just to get a grip on this: If I write a sonata, I need to put all the structural elements inside and in a specific order, that is expected to be in a sonata, otherwise there is no point in calling it a sonata, even if I want to be free as an artist.

So, who cares that the hero’s in a romantic comedy screenplay always starts his B-story on page 25 and kiss for the first time on page 33 and has sex for the first time on page 43 (or something like that)? It’s the structure that film-makers like and know will work. I see this kind of writing as part of the craft.

It’s very refreshing though to let totally go of this by writing novels, which is mainly for myself.

just my thoughts…

André

He has in fact written a book that’s out (here in the US): The Anatomy of Story

I downloaded the demo of John Truby’s software and read the help file that came with it. It’s like a book in itself that explains a lot. But he is using a terminology that is too confusing for me.

I feel the same with the Complete Hero’s Journey (clickok.co.uk/index4.html?gc … Qgod9TaPqw). ( I read somewhere that he didn’t write any screenplay himself but is a consultant for movies only)

I must admit that I was hooked the moment I started to read Save the Cat material and I read by now every page on his website including the forums. There is a lot you can pick up about his way of thinking there. Plus, of course, you can download his Script system for free. I copied the system on a large white board and hang it on my working room wall. Nice to just sit in front of it with a cup of coffee and dream about my own block buster…

I would love to try out his real software but there is no demo version. What I saw, though on a picture, is something that remind me at Storycraft and the Novelist software. Filling in the blanks and you can only go to the next step after filling in the previous one. I know the beat steps by now, it’s all over the internet but I wonder of there is still more to it that is only in his software. I think that his software does some filtering stuff as well while choosing your own movie category like the software does I mentioned as explainined here: blakesnyder.com/downloads/ST … nlRev2.pdf

Did anyone here actually bought it and works with it?

André