Save the Cat beats for novels cheatsheet

I recently read Save The Cat Writes a Novel (Amazon link) which is a modification of the Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat screenwriting beat sheet, but for novelists.

And I made up a little cheat sheet of the beats themselves, with their locations in a book.

Here it is for anyone else who needs it:

Opening Image

Location: Start of the novel.

A visual that represents the struggle and the tone of the story, such as a snapshot of the main character’s problem before the adventure begins.

Setup

Location: First 10% of the novel.

This section is an expansion of the opening image, and present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.

Theme Stated

Location: Middle of “Setup” section, or around the 5% point.

This is what your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth… not until they have some personal experience and context to support it.

Catalyst

Location: At the end of the “Setup” section, or around the 10% point

The moment where life as it is changes, the moment that kicks off the story.

Debate

Location: From the 10% point to the 20% point of the novel

This is where the protagonist has doubts about whether to go ahead. Should they take the case, go on the quest, sign up for the cheerleading tryouts? This is the last chance for them to chicken out.

Break Into Two

Location: End of the “Debate” section, or just up to the 20% point

The main character makes a choice and the journey begins.

B Story

Location: Start of “Fun and Games” or the just past the 20% point

This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme — the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story.”

The Promise of the Premise — Fun & Games

Location: From the 20% to the 50% point

This is when Indiana Jones tries to beat the Nazis to the Lost Ark, when the detective finds the most clues and dodges the most bullets. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.

Midpoint

Location: End of “Fun and Games” section, or just up to the 50% point.

Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is either great or awful. The main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”). But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.

Bad Guys Close In

Location: From the 50% to the 75% point.

Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.

All is Lost, Whiff of Death

Location: End of the “Bad Guys Close In” section, or just up to the 75% point.

The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful” or “great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born.

Dark Night of the Soul

Location: From the 75% to the 80% point

The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The “Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord?” moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” — the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.

Break Into Three

Location: End of “Dark Night” section, or up to the 80% point.

Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.

Finale

Location: From the 80% to the end of the novel

This time around, the main character incorporates the Theme — the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them — into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis!

Final Image

Location: End of the novel

This is the opposite of the Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.