By Gloria Reichert
Several months ago, I attended a Highlights Foundation Workshop where the presenters recommended that we participants read Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat. Snyder, one of Hollywood’s most successful screenwriters, shares his secrets of success in a funny, informative manner. This book contains much sage advice that can be applied to writing a book as well as to writing a screenplay.
Snyder states that after coming up with a wonderful idea and determining the main character and the audience, writing is all about structure, structure, structure. In his quest for success, Snyder developed his own template, which he calls The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet. This is how it looks. The numbers in parentheses are page numbers where the beats should occur in a screenplay. A brief explanation follows each beat.
The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet
The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet
1. Opening Image (1): A first impression of the tone, type, and mood; shows starting point of the hero
2. Theme Stated (5): The thematic premise; (Can’t be didactic in picture books)
3. Set-up (1-10): Sets up the hero, the stakes, and the goal of the story and hooks the audience
4. Catalyst (12): The first moment when something happens to set the main character on his/her journey; is often bad news that eventually lead to happiness
5. Debate (12-25): last chance for the hero to back out before the journey begins
6. Break into Two (25): Moment the hero decides to leave the old world and proceeds into a new world which is upside down
7. B Story (30): Carries the story’s theme and smooths over the A story break; often a love story of some sort, new character introduced
8. Fun and Games (30-55): The promise of the premise; the heart of the story
9. Midpoint (55): The threshold between the two halves of the movie; could be either a peak or a valley
10. Bad Guys Close In (55-75): The bad guys regroup and come back stronger; internal dissent, doubt, and jealousy beset the hero’s team; there’s nowhere the hero can go for help.
11. All Is Lost (75): No hope; looks like total defeat, but it is false.
12. Dark Night of the Soul (75-85): The darkness right before the dawn when the hero finds the way to solve his problem
13. Break into Three (85): The solution
14. Finale (85-110): The wrap up
15. Final Image (110): The opposite of the opening image; shows the changes that have occurred.
Instead of thinking about three acts, Snyder thinks in terms of thesis (the first ten pages and the rest of Act One), antithesis (Break into Two), and synthesis (Break into Three).
He also explains how to put a sentence or two about each beat onto an index card and arrange and rearrange them till the story is right.
Fortunately for me, when I finished reading the book, I watched Heather Preusser’s webinar on 12x12 entitled “How Strategies from Save the Cat Can Strengthen Your Manuscript.” Heather demonstrated how to apply Snyder’s Beat Sheet to her picture book, A Symphony of Cowbells, and things became clear. Heather did not use the beat sheet when she wrote this story, but she now uses the template, especially when she gets stuck. If you go to her website, www.heatherpreusser.com, and look under “For Writers,” she provides beat sheets for several other model texts.
The pages numbers given for Snyder’s Beat Sheet were for a 110-page screenplay, but if you go to http://www.beatsheetcalculator.com, you can enter the number of pages in your manuscript and see the suggested page numbers for each beat. For a picture book, enter 32 pages. If you write MG or YA, enter the projected number of pages in your manuscript to see when each beat should occur.
Sounds like a great tool for plotting and pacing. I can’t wait to try it with my manuscripts!