The folks over at Save the Cat!, which does not include the program’s late innovator Blake Snyder, offered an object lesson last week on the misapplication of craft.
It’s common practice for Save the Cat! to break down a current or classic movie and illustrate how it conforms to a story’s fifteen major narrative “beats” as Snyder identified them (Blake himself published an entire book dedicated to this skill-building exercise, which I recommend—certainly over any of the recent analyses on the STC! blog). This is what a sample “beat sheet” (of my own authorship) would look like (click on it for a closer look):
Simple enough, right? The entire story summarized at its most basic, macrostructural level. That’s the kind of plot overview I’ll painstakingly compose before I begin Word One of my screenplay or novel, so I know the plot is always tracking in the right direction. It’s an indispensable application to help a writer “break the back” of his story, as well as an excellent learning tool: By reverse-engineering well-regarded movies, you can teach yourself the fundamentals of mythic structure. That is ostensibly the reason Save the Cat! offers sample deconstructions on a near-weekly basis.
And now for something completely different: How about a magic trick?
Think of your favorite story—book or movie. (Hell, say it aloud, if you’re inclined—I can’t hear you.) If you’ve got several candidates, just pick one quickly, at random.
Got one firmly in mind?
Betcha I can tell you how the plot unfolds.
Here goes: The protagonist is faced with an unforeseen crisis that upends the status quo, and, after some initial resistance, accepts the call to adventure. Through a series of trials and setbacks in which both allies and enemies are made, our hero finds the strength to rise to the challenge and, in doing so, achieves personal catharsis (what we in Hollywood call the “character arc”), returning once again to an ordinary state of affairs… a little bit wiser for his troubles. The End.
How’d I do?
It’s a little general, I’ll grant you—I probably wouldn’t wow them in Vegas with that act—but, at your story’s most basic structural level, that pretty much sums it up, no?