Story structure & Save The Cat

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It would be remiss of me, in a series on drafting/writing, not to discuss three act structure... but here's my dirty little secret: I don't outline, I'm terrible at explaining structure, and the idea of religiously following story structure sucks all the joy from my heart and doesn't make me want to write.

So what business do I have telling you about the essentials of storytelling? Not much! For writers who need a master course in story structure, I can offer other resources to look into. But I do think there is value in telling you my perspective/what works for me.

I do follow story structure in my writing. Just not consciously. I've read so many books (fiction), and watched so much television, and so many movies--I have absorbed story beats and structure and storytelling devices by osmosis. When I sat down to write my first book... the beats just came. I am not the only writer like this, I'm sure. If you've struggled with plot and structure and hate outlines and reading books on structure make you want to cry, I offer you hope. Read, watch, observe.

But knowing what three act structure is and what the story beats ARE can help.

Three act structure: Set-up, Confrontation, Resolution. This is screenwriting shorthand for how to plan out and plot a story.

I recommend Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT to writers, just as a critique partner recommended it to me. I didn't actually LIKE the book. It's a screenwriting manual written ages ago, by a screenwriter who never wrote anything of much substance (his screenwriting credits are laughable). But. He boils down storytelling beats in a three act structure to cute, quippy concepts that are easy to digest/latch onto. I use the shorthand Snyder developed when helping other writers with their work. There are beats that many newer writers miss, and working on them can totally turn their novel around.

You can find the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet (BS2) by Googling it, and you can also find some excellent breakdowns of popular novels using the BS2. These are the beats:

1. Opening Image

2. Theme Stated

3. Set Up

4. Inciting Incident

5. Debate

6. Break into Two

7. B Story

8. Fun and Games or "Promise of the Premise"

9. Midpoint

10. Bad Guys Close In

11. All Is Lost

12. Dark Night of the Soul

13. Break into Three

14. Finale

15. Final Image

I'll talk more about specific beats in future chapters about character and plot arcs, including "Save the Cat," "Fun & Games," "Dark Night of the Soul" and "Finale."

I've always thought the BS2 was missing one beat: The Calm After The Storm. Arcs & emotions should firmly resolve here, and you should allow the reader to breathe before The End. Many endings that feel rushed or unsatisfying are missing this. Work it in after the Finale, before the Final Image (or pair with Final Image).

But more on that later!

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