Save the Cat and other Story Structures

BookCoverImageThis week a buddy and reader of my book, Creative Writing Career, was awesome enough to put together a table of the analysis of structure I did in the book. So say “Thank you, Michael Grech.”

As this table demonstrates, there is definite overlap in these styles of structure. My original purpose was to show that you can pick the style that works for you, or maybe even consider all of them and just pick and choose – whatever helps you get your story written.

He also commented on the Plot Point 1 being the break into 2, and we had some discussion about this and then realized why that could be – Syd Field’s plot point 1 would indeed be this, but we’re talking here about a different system that author Dan Wells teaches. So, now you know. 

Below the table I have included some of the Save the Cat summary from my book, as this table takes on a sort of Save the Cat point of view. If you would like to read more, check out Creative Writing Career. Thank you!

Story Structure Philosophies – Courtesy of Michael Grech

Save the Cat The Heroes/Writers Journey Sequence Approach Seven-Point Structure
Opening Image:Visual establishes mood/tone/style
Theme Stated:Implicitly/Explicitly  
Set-Up:Protagonist, Goal, Stakes The Ordinary World Sequence A The Hook
Catalyst:Change challenges Protagonist. Call to Adventure End Sequence A Plot Turn 1
Debate:Protagonist fights new path Refusal of the Call Sequence B
Break into Two:Protagonist choice = No going back Crossing the First Threshold End Sequence B
B Story:Story that carries theme (often love story) Allies (Tests Allies and Enemies) Sequence E
Fun and Games:Deliver on Premise

(stakes raised / not raised)

Tests Allies and Enemies / Approach to the Innermost cave Sequence C/ Sequence D Pinch 1
Midpoint:Character Action = Key decision

False victory / False defeat

(Opposite of All-is-Lost)

Stakes are Raised

The Ordeal End Sequence D Midpoint
Bad Guys Close In:Evil pushes back.

(Internal doubt /  jealousy)

The Road Back Sequence F
All Is Lost:Total defeat.


Whiff of death: (Death or near death = Failure is possible.)

The Resurrection Sequence G Pinch 2
Dark Night of the Soul:Hopeless and helpless. Lowest. Sequence G Pinch 2
Break into Three:Protagonist returns with lessons learned.

(B Story pays off)

Rebirth End Sequence G Plot Turn 2
Finale:Tie up loose ends with lessons learned Return with the Elixir Sequence H Resolution
Final Image:Opposite of opening image = Change


The structure presented in Save the Cat, also known as the “Blake Snyder Beat Sheet” is as follows:

Opening Image: A visual that sets the tone, mood, and style of the movie. The opening image should introduce the protagonist and show a snapshot of the protagonist before the journey. Most of all, it should cause the viewers or readers to be excited about what is to come.

Theme Stated: Usually in the early portion of your story, someone will implicitly or explicitly state the theme. This can often come in the form of a question. It is fine, and probably even encouraged, for the protagonist to not understand the comment at the time, but readers and viewers will certainly see the protagonist come to learn its importance.

Set-up: Including the above sections, the first portion of the story should set up the protagonist, the goal, and the stakes. Here we should meet every main character of the A story, plant the protagonist’s tics and behaviors, and show how and why the protagonist will transform if they hope to win. The steps up to and including the Set-up correlate to the Ordinary World from The Writer’s Journey, Sequence A from The Sequence Approach, and The Hook from the “Seven Point Story Structure.”

Catalyst: Now is the time to bring a change to this world of the story, the moment that throws your protagonist on his or her head and challenges them to make a change. This is the Call to Adventure from The Writer’s Journey, what ends Sequence A in The Sequence Approach, and the Plot Turn 1 from the “Seven Point Story Structure.”

Debate: As change never comes easy, this is where the protagonist considers how horrible it would be to follow this new path, but how much worse it would be to do nothing. The protagonist asks if he or she is willing to do what it takes, the answer being that they have to try. This is the Refusal of the Call from The Writer’s Journey, Sequence B from The Sequence Approach.

Break into Two: The protagonist has made a choice and leaves the old world behind, entering a new world (whether this is an actual physical new world or a new state of being). This must be a decision that the protagonist makes. This is basically the Crossing the First Threshold from The Writer’s Journey, the end of Sequence B in The Sequence Approach.

B Story: This is the story that carries the theme of the movie, and is often in the form of a love story. While not in the same order, this is similar to Sequence E in The Sequence Approach, and relates to the allies section of Tests, Allies, and Enemies in The Writer’s Journey.

Fun and Games: This is the fun part of the story, the part where we deliver on the premise. If this is a movie, it is where most of the movie trailer moments will come from, or the “set pieces.” I disagree with one main point here, which is that Blake Snyder says the stakes will not be raised until the midpoint, but if you choose to be a Save the Cat person, that can be your call. This is similar to the Tests, Allies, and Enemies as well as the Approach to the Innermost Cave in The Writer’s Journey, Sequences C and D from The Sequence Approach, and would likely include the Pinch 1 from “Seven Point Story Structure.”

Midpoint: The midpoint is where we see either a false victory or a false defeat. In my discussions with Jeremy Breslau, interviewed in this book, I came to see either of these moments as coming close before or after a moment with the opposite feeling – a false defeat will come immediately after a false victory. It is up to you as the author to decide what your true midpoint is. What matters is that the stakes are raised and the fun and games are over. Blake Snyder also says this moment is the opposite of the All is Lost moment, so if you go with a false victory here, then that moment should be a false defeat. The midpoint resembles The Ordeal from The Writer’s Journey, the end of Sequence D in The Sequence Approach, and the aptly named Midpoint from the “Seven Point Story Structure.”

Bad Guys Close In: Here is where writers often have the hardest time. This is where, although the protagonist may have thought he or she was in the clear at the midpoint, the bad guys bring the pain. It is also where our protagonist faces doubt and, if part of a group, jealousy and internal dissent. This has similarities to The Road Back in The Writer’s Journey, and may be encapsulated in Sequence F of The Sequence Approach.

All is Lost: This may be the opposite moment from the midpoint, but I will stress my argument that this should always feel like total defeat. Blake Snyder puts a “whiff of death” in this section, where someone dies or almost dies, in a way that reminds the viewers that death for the protagonist is indeed possible. This means that the old world and way of thinking dies as well, and the protagonist feels the All is Lost moment that much more. This point relates to the death aspect of The Resurrection in The Writer’s Journey, falls somewhere in Sequence G of The Sequence Approach, and combined with the Dark Night of the Soul below makes up the Pinch 2 in “Seven Point Story Structure.”

Dark Night of the Soul: This is “the darkness right before the dawn.” It is the moment when, after losing everything, the protagonist feels hopeless and helpless, and sees no way forward. This falls in Sequence G of The Sequence Approach.

Break into Three: Here the protagonist gets back up, using everything learned throughout the story to make a comeback. This is the rebirth section of The Resurrection in The Writer’s Journey, the end of Sequence G in The Sequence Approach, and seems to be the Plot Turn 2 in “Seven Point Story Structure.”

Finale: In Act Three the protagonist will tie up all loose ends, applying the lessons learned, mastering any character tics, and bringing the A story and B story to a triumphant end. Through dealing with the problem, the protagonist leaves the old world behind and brings in a “new world order.” This is similar to the Return with the Elixir in The Writer’s Journey, Sequence H in The Sequence Approach, and the Resolution in “Seven Point Story Structure.”

Final Image: In a stunning closing image, we see the opposite of the opening image and prove visually that the change has occurred and that it is real.



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