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How to Edit a Book with the Save the Cat! Beat Sheet

Fictionary Meets Save the Cat

Thanks to Jessica Brody for giving me permission to use the Save the Cat! beat sheet. Jessica is the author of Save the Cat! Writes a Novel and the founder of The Writing Mastery Academy.

What is the Save the Cat! beat sheet? Here’s how Jessica defines it.

There’s something buried deep within our DNA as humans that makes us respond to certain storytelling elements told in a certain order. We’ve been responding to them since our primitive ancestors drew on walls and tribes told stories around campfires. The Save the Cat! methodology simply identifies that code and turns it into an easy-to-follow blueprint for crafting a successful story, so that we writers don’t have to reinvent the wheel that has been used since, well, the time the wheel was invented. — Jessica Brody, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel. p. 5

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The Story Arc

Fictionary software uses the code described in the Save the Cat! methodology, and is THE tool to apply it. The Fictionary Story Arc works on the same principle at the highest level, so let’s start with a mapping of five Save the Cat! beats to the Fictionary Story Arc.

Fictionary to Save the Cat

Download the Fictionary to Save the Cat! Mapping.

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As you read this post, you’ll notice the hero in the Save the Cat! beats maps to the protagonist in Fictionary.

But what about the other Save the Cat! beats, you ask.

Let’s use my novel Look The Other Way to illustrate the beats. First, here’s the blurb which shows Shannon is the protagonist.

A year after her Uncle Bobby mysteriously disappears in the turquoise waters surrounding the Bahamas, Shannon Payne joins her grieving aunt to trace his last voyage. Shannon hopes the serenity of the sea might help her recover from a devastating breakup with her fiancé.

Sailing their 38-foot catamaran, A Dog’s Cat, is Captain Jake Hunter, a disillusioned cop who has sworn off women. While Shannon tries to resist her growing attraction to the rugged captain, she uncovers some dark truths about her uncle’s death that might send all three of them to the depths.

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Fictionary Overview

Here’s a look at how Look the Other Way appears in Fictionary. On the left, the scene outline maps to the Save the Cat! beats. Text revisions occur in the middle. On the right, the tabs for character, plot, and setting contain the Story Elements you’ll be using.

You can keep track of revisions you want to make using the Notes tab, so you don’t have to make revisions as you evaluate the story. That can come later.

Fictionary Look the Other Way

Illustration 1: Fictionary Evaluate Page

The plot tab helps us create our after-draft outline with the scene name story element and keep track of the Save the Cat! beats with the purpose of the scene story element. Based on the these two story elements alone, we’ll discover if we have the scenes in the right order and if they have the best balance.

As we work through the 15 beats of Save the Cat!, I’ll show you the corresponding story element(s) in Fictionary.

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OPENING IMAGE

The first Save the Cat! beat is the Opening Image and is a single scene beat.

Save the Cat! Opening Image Check List

Make it visual

Show your hero’s flaw manifest in some way

Establish the tone of the story

For the opening image, we’ll need to use all three tabs for character, plot, and setting.

PLOT TAB

Opening Image Plot

Scene Name: OPENING IMAGE: Offer on house

This is already building the Save the Cat! outline. For your novel, type the scene name in the text box beside Scene Name. Make sure you include OPENING IMAGE.

Purpose: Opening Image – Intro Shannon

For the purpose, click on the text box beside Purpose and add a new item that starts with Opening Image.

CHARACTER TAB

Save The Cat Mapping

 

Point of View: Shannon Payne

The reader will expect that the protagonist is the point of view character for the opening scene. If it’s not, make sure you have a good reason for choosing a different character.

Impact on Protagonist: Shannon putting others 1st. Bad for her.

Use this story element to track the hero/protagonist’s flaw.

We’ll cover other elements later in this post. For now, you’re just entering the point of view character for the opening image and the impact this scene has on the hero/protagonist.

These elements show the reader who your hero is and what their flaw is. If you can’t fill out the Impact on Protagonist, it means the hero’s flaw is not clear yet and revisions are required. List this in the Notes panel and keep going on the Save the Cat! beats for now.


SETTING TAB

Setting Tab Opening ImageUse the setting elements to ensure the scene is visual. You can fill out the elements in a similar way to what I’ve done for Look The Other Way. 

You’ll know the scene is not visual if few of the senses, objects, or weather have been used.  This means it’s time to revise the opening image and make it more visual. List revisions in the Notes panel and keep going.

In the Setting tab, I’ve only included details relevant to the plot. Your goal here is to answer the question, “Is the scene visual?”

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SETUP

The second Save the Cat! beat is the Setup and is a multiple scene beat.

Save the Cat! Setup Check List

Establish the hero and who they are

Show the status quo world

Show your hero’s flaws

Introduce your hero’s external goals (wants)

Show the “Things That Need Fixing” (problems)

PLOT TAB

To see the scenes that are part of the setup, add SU before each scene name that is part of the setup sequence.

Scene Name: SU: Debi buys boat (Illustration 1: Fictionary Evaluate Page, Scene 3)

Purpose: Add Setup to the purpose drop-down menu. Remember this is a multi-scene beat, so you’ll select Setup for the purpose for each of these scenes . The Purpose of Scenes insight on the Visualize page will show the percentage of the novel taken up by the setup scenes. This is the reward for mapping the Save the Cat! beats to Fictionary Story Elements.

CHARACTER TAB

POV Goal: Update this with the hero’s external goals.

POV Goal Internal: Update this with the “Things That Need Fixing”.

IMPACT ON PROTAGONIST: Update this with how you’re showing the hero’s flaws during the setup.

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THEME STATED

The third Save the Cat! beat is the Theme Stated.  This is part of the setup sequence and is a single scene.

Save the Cat! Theme Stated Check List

Directly relates to your hero’s flaw and what they need to learn

Stated by a secondary character

Is ignored by the hero

PLOT TAB

Scene Name: THEME STATED: Shannon Fired (Illustration 1: Fictionary Evaluate Page)

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CATALYST

The fourth Save the Cat! beat is the Catalyst.  This maps directly to the Fictionary Inciting Incident. This is a single-beat scene and we are no longer in the setup of the story.

Save the Cat! Catalyst Check List

Something happens to the hero

The hero can’t go back after this event

Sends the story in a new direction

Forces the hero out of their status quo

PLOT TAB

Scene Name: CATALYST: Lance cheats

Story Arc: Set to Yes.

Purpose: Inciting Incident

Fictionary Inciting Incident

CHARACTER TAB

Point of View (POV): Must be the protagonist.

Fictionary Point of View

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DEBATE

The fifth Save the Cat! beat is the Debate.  This is a multi-scene beat.

Save the Cat! Debate Check List

Sum up the hero’s reaction to the catalyst with a question

Show the hero’s resistance to change OR

Show the hero preparing for Break into 2

PLOT TAB

Scene Name: DB: <scene name> Name each scene in the debate sequence so you know you’re meeting the check list requirements.

Purpose: Debate Sequence

Fictionary Debate Sequence

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BREAK INTO 2

The sixth Save the Cat! beat is the Break Into 2.  This maps directly to the Fictionary Plot Point 1 and is a single-scene beat.

Save the Cat! Break Into 2 Check List

Hero makes a proactive decision to break into 2

Identify how the hero is doing something new or going somewhere new

Introduce a new, upside down world that’s very different from the status quo

Forces the hero out of their status quo

Hero’s motivation driven by what they want, not that they need (fixing things the wrong way)

PLOT TAB

Scene Name: BREAK INTO 2: <scene name>

Story Arc:  Set to Yes

Purpose: Plot Point 1

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B STORY

The seventh Save the Cat! beat is the B Story.  This is a single-scene beat.

Save the Cat! B Story Check List

A new character who will represent or teach the hero the theme AND

Is a product of the Act 2 world

PLOT TAB

Scene Name: B STORY <scene name>

Purpose of Scene: B STORY

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FUN & GAMES

The eighth Save the Cat! beat is the Fun & Games beat.  This is a multi-scene beat.

Save the Cat! Fun & Games Check List

Show how the hero is faring in the Act 2 world (upward/downward)

Give the hero ups and downs along the path

Show how the hero is pursuing the external goal

Deliver on the promise of the premise

Illustrate how different Act 2 is from Act 1

PLOT TAB

Scene Name: F&G: <scene name>

Purpose: Fun and Games

CHARACTER TAB

Character Arc: Select Negative, Neutral, or Positive. This will illustrate the protagonist’s ups and downs on the Protagonist’s Character Arc insight on the Visualize page.

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MIDPOINT

The ninth Save the Cat! beat is the Midpoint.  This maps directly to the Fictionary Middle and is a single-scene beat.

Save the Cat! Midpoint Check List

Show false victory or false defeat

The hero gets or loses something they want

Something happens that raises the stakes and turns the story in a new direction

Shows a subtle shift from wants to needs

PLOT TAB

Scene Name: MIDPOINT: <scene name>

Story Arc:  Set to Yes

Purpose: Middle

Middle and Climax: Enter what happens that raises the stakes or turns the story in a new direction. If you can’t find this in the scene it needs to be revised. Put an X in the story elements, so you know this needs to be addressed later and keep going.

CHARACTER TAB

Character Arc: If the protagonist gets something they want, set this to positive. If they lose something they want, set this to negative. If it’s neither, leave the element as neutral, so you know the scene needs to be revised.

Impact on Protagonist: Enter what the subtle shift is from wants to needs. If you can’t find this in the scene, it needs to be revised. Put an X in the story element, so you know this needs to be addressed later and keep going…

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BAD GUYS CLOSE IN

The tenth Save the Cat! Beat is the Bad Guys Close In sequence.  This is a multi-scene beat.

Save the Cat! Bad Guys Close In Check List

Show the hero on an upward or downward path

Internal bad guys apply more pressure

A new or modified goal is introduced in response to the midpoint

PLOT TAB

Scene Name: BAD GUYS <scene name>

Purpose: Bad Guys Close In

 

Fictionary Bad Guys Close In

 

CHARACTER TAB

POV GOAL:  Enter the new or modified goal in the scene where it appears.

Character Arc: Set to Positive for scenes where the protagonist is on an upward path. Set to Negative for scenes where the protagonist is on a downward path. And… leave as Neutral if it’s neither. Neutral means the scene may be boring to the reader and needs revision.

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ALL IS LOST

The eleventh Save the Cat! beat is All Is Lost.  This is a single-scene beat and maps to Plot Point 2 in Fictionary.

Save the Cat! All Is Lost Check List

Hero hits rock bottom

Internal and external bad guys are at fault

Hero loses something important to them

There’s a whiff (hint) of death.

PLOT TAB

Scene Name: ALL IS LOST: <scene name>

Story Arc:  Set to Yes

Purpose: Plot Point 2

Middle and Climax: Enter what happens that raises the stakes or turns the story in a new direction. If you can’t find this in the scene, it needs to be revised. Put an X in the story elements so you know this needs to be addressed later.

 

Middle & Climax

CHARACTER TAB

Point of View (POV): Must be the protagonist.

Character Arc: This must be Negative, or the protagonist cannot be at their All Is Lost moment.

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DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL

The twelfth Save the Cat! beat is the Dark Night of the Soul, and is  a multi-scene beat.

Save the Cat! Dark Night of the Soul Check List

Hero reflects on/reacts to everything that’s happened.

Hero is worse off than at the start of the story

Hero has some kind of epiphany or realization that will lead to the real change

PLOT TAB

SCENE NAME: DARK NIGHT <scene name>

PURPOSE: DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL

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BREAK INTO 3

The thirteenth Save the Cat! beat is the Break Into 3.  This is a single-scene beat.

Save the Cat! Break Into 3 Check List

Show the hero making a proactive decision to change the right way

Identify how the hero has changed and learned the theme

Create an Act 3 world, which is the synthesis of the Act 1 and Act 2 worlds.

PLOT TAB

SCENE NAME: BREAK INTO 3 <scene name>

CHARACTER TAB

POINT OF VIEW: Must be the protagonist.

CHARACTER ARC: Should be set to Positive as the protagonist is making a proactive decision to change the right way. If you set this to Neutral or Negative, you’re telling yourself the scene needs to be revised.

 

Break into 3 Plot

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FINALE

The fourteenth Save the Cat! Beat is the Finale, and is a multi-scene beat.

The Fictionary Climax scene will be located somewhere within the Finale scenes.

Save the Cat! Finale Check List

Fix the problems from Act 1 and Act 2

Prove that the hero has learned the themed and conquered their flaw

Show the hero experiencing difficulty and dealing with conflict

For all the scenes in this beat sequence that are not the climax scenes use the following story elements.

PLOT TAB

SCENE NAME: FINALE <scene name>

PURPOSE: The Finale

CONFLICT: <enter key conflict for each scene>

For the Climax within The Finale

PLOT TAB

SCENE NAME: CLIMAX <scene name>

PURPOSE: Climax

CHARACTER TAB

POINT OF VIEW: This must be the protagonist

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FINAL IMAGE

And now we’ve reached the fifteenth Save the Cat! Beat. The Final Image.  This is a single-scene beat.

Save the Cat! Final Image Check List

Make it visual

Show how the hero or someone has been changed or transformed by the story

Illustrate how the hero is different from the Opening Image.

PLOT TAB

Scene Name: FINAL IMAGE <scene name>

Purpose: Final Image

CHARACTER TAB

Impact on Protagonist: State how the hero/protagonist has changed

SETTING TAB

Use the setting elements to ensure the scene is visual. You’ll know the scene is not visual if few of the senses, objects, or weather have been used.  This means it’s time to revise the opening image and make it more visual.

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Story Level Revisions

Purpose of Each Scene

When you set the Purpose for each scene according to the Save the Cat! methodology, you can see how you did in Fictionary. Some of the Save the Cat! beats are multi-scene beats, meaning they take up a larger portion of the story than the single-beat scenes.

For my Novel Look The Other Way, let’s check how I’m doing.  This is the Purpose of Scenes insight on the Visualize page in Fictionary. This insight updated every time I updated the purpose of a scene on the Evaluate page as I worked my way through the Save the Cat! beats.

 

Save the Cat purpose

SETUP

Save the Cat! recommends the setup occurs from 1% to 10% of the way through the story. The setup should occupy the first 10% of the story. In Look The Other Way, the setup (5%) includes the Opening Image and the Theme scenes (total 2%), meaning the setup is only 7% of the story. So it’s a bit short and I need to do some revisions.

DEBATE

Save the Cat! recommends the debate occurs 10% to 20% of the way through the story. The debate should occupy 10% of the story. In Look The Other Way, the debate sequence is 11% of the story. I’m going to give myself a gold star!

FUN & GAMES

Save the Cat! recommends the Fun & Games sequence occurs 20% to 50% of the way through the story. The Fun & Games sequence should occupy 30% of the story. In Look The Other Way, this sequence is 26%. Not quite a gold star, but I’m happy with it.

BAD GUYS CLOSE IN

Save the Cat! recommends the bad guys close in sequence occurs 50% to 75% of the way through the story. This sequence should occupy 25% of the story. In Look The Other Way, this sequence is 22%, and  I think I deserve a gold star for that.

DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL

Save the Cat! recommends the dark night of the soul sequence occurs 75% to 80% of the way through the story. This sequence should occupy 5% of the story. In Look The Other Way, this sequence is only 7%. Uh oh, this I’ve got some work to do.

FINALE

Save the Cat! recommends the finale sequence occurs 80% to 100% of the way through the story. This sequence should occupy 20% of the story. In Look The Other Way, this sequence is 18%, meaning another gold star for me.

And this means…

As I revise the story and change the length of each of the beats, I’ll have to ensure I stay on track, so the beats are in the right range.  In Fictionary, as I revise the story and add new scenes, I’ll update the Purpose story element. The Purpose of Scenes insight above will update every time I update the Purpose story element on the Evaluate page.  So that’s pretty cool and will speed up my editing.

 

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PLUS a bonus for you:

Jessica has graciously offered an awesome deal to subscribe to the Writing Mastery Academy. The academy offers unlimited access to writing courses & live webinars to help you achieve all your writing goals. For example, there is even a course specifically on the Save the Cat! methodology.
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