Scrivener And “Save The Cat!”

In a previous post, I mentioned that I structure all of my fiction work using Blake Snyder’s “Save The Cat!” structure model.

Some of my readers might have wondered what such a structure looks like in Scrivener. Those of you who also use the “Save The Cat!” structuring method might also be aware that there is an app that bears the name “Save The Cat!” which is dedicated purely to this story structuring model.

Now, it’s not my intention to take sales away from that app — for what it’s designed to do, it’s fantastic. But what it’s designed to do is one thing, and really one thing only: allow writers to create story structure for screenplays, then export those structures to applications like Final Draft.

But if you can recreate the philosophy that underlies that application, Scrivener expands that workflow, allowing you to not only create your structure — and not just for screenplays, but for novels and even short stories — but then write your story based on it, all in the same application. I believe that I’ve found a way to do just that.

“Save The Cat!” incorporates just over a dozen must-have plot points into its structure. Briefly, these are:

Opening Image: This is where your hero begins. We see his flaws, and we also see that if something about his life doesn’t change, he’s on the road to ruin.

Theme Stated: This is the fundamental theme of your hero’s upcoming transformative adventure, often (though not always) openly stated in dialogue at this point.

Setup: We explore the hero’s flaws and mundane trials, at work, at play and/or at home.

Catalyst: The event that sets the bigger problem in front of the hero.

Debate: This is where the hero resists tackling the bigger problem.

Break Into 2: This is where the hero chooses — and it must be a proactive choice — to tackle the big problem.

B Story: This is where the hero meets the character he’ll be fighting for.

Fun & Games: This is where, as Blake Snyder described it, we realize the “promise of the premise”; another way he described it is that this is where all of the things you’d see in the movie trailer come from.

Midpoint: The hero has a significant false victory or false defeat here. A clock generally starts ticking here, as well.

Bad Guys Close In: The pressure is amplified in this section as the villain(s) discover the superhero’s secret identity, metaphorically speaking, and close in on hitting him right where it will hurt the most.

All Is Lost: And here is where they hit him right where it hurts the most.

Dark Night Of The Soul: Here the hero, utterly defeated, mourns the death of (x). (x) could be the person he was fighting for, but more importantly, it’s the death of his original worldview. Everything he believed in has just been ripped into shreds and pissed on by the villain.

Break Into 3: The hero hears that whisper in the back of his mind repeating what he was told at the Theme Stated point, and it rejuvenates him, gives him the will to make his final stand, win or lose. This is the place where Neo begins to really believe that he is The One, to use an example.

Finale: This is where the final battle is fought, whether the battle is physical or more subtle. There will still be small victories followed by small defeats, and the victories and defeats continue to ascend in intensity until the final victory — or the final defeat, depending on which ending you prefer.

Final Image: This is the immediate aftermath of the final victory (or final defeat) where we see how the hero has transformed due to his adventure. Looked at in a certain light, for example, Darth Vader is actually the hero of Return of the Jedi, because he had the most dramatic transformation, from ruthless Sith Lord back to a remorseful Annakin Skywalker longing to connect with his son as his last living act.

So! What do those story beats look like in Scrivener? Like this:

Fullscreen 4 14 13 8 29 AM

You can see that, while some of those beats are single documents, some are folders. That’s because some beats, such as “Setup”, actually include several parts. For example, in that Scrivener project, “Setup” is actually composed of the following:

Opening Image
Setup – Home
Setup – Work
Setup – Play

I didn’t include “Theme Stated” as a distinct document, because Theme Stated, as a plot point, is both intentionally subtle and incredibly brief. It appears during the “Setup – Work” beat as a single line of dialogue that gets noticed and reflected on for just a tiny moment, but will be called back to later.

For those who are new to the “Save The Cat!” method and would like more information, I encourage you to pick up Blake Snyder’s book, “Save The Cat!” It explains the method in greater detail, and provides examples of how the biggest and best films of the 20th and 21st centuries incorporate the same story beats I’ve related to you here. You can find it at http://www.blakesnyder.com

And if you haven’t yet picked up your copy of Scrivener for Mac or Windows, you can try before you buy. Just go to http://www.literatureandlatte.com

Until next time, please remember to support this blog; do good work, and be good to yourselves and each other.

29 comments

  • Love Scrivener. Thanks for the info!

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  • Have all of Blake’s books. Thought they would be “below me,” but have been pleasantly surprised. I love structuring (perhaps too much), and I’m right at the point of determining whether to go with one or the other system. I’ve watched all the tutorials on both, like the idea of SET-UPS and PAY-OFFS in STC.Can you do the same thing in Scrivener? There are things about both of them that I don’t like, but the STC system I feel that I could get by with work-arounds.

    The less info I need to carry around in my head for each scene would be great and a time-saver.
    Please — if you don’t mind — explore bot of these further. Perhaps with your real-world examples? Hmmm?!

    All the best,
    Richard

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  • because every character in a story should be a man….

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    • I’m really not sure where you get that idea from, Jeany. Now, of course, i’m a man, so I tend to write with male generic pronouns… would you rather I didn’t? Are you as vigilant about making sure that female writers don’t use female generic pronouns? I’ll bet you’re not. You’re probably fine with that, aren’t you?

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  • Stephanie Priestley

    Great post, John. Do you have the screen shot as a template by any chance? It’s difficult to see it clearly. I like the colors too.

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    • I don’t believe I still have the original screenshot; however, I hope that what’s presented there gives you some great ideas to launch your own template from!

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      • Alistair McAlpine

        Hi John, great post. I am a fan of Scrivener also and would love to see a readable version of the screenshot image if possible. Once again thanks for the ‘Save the Cat’ story beats tip!
        Al

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      • I’ll tell you what I’ll do — although I’m still not really wanting to upload readable images of actual work in progress, what I will do is create a Scrivener template based on the Save The Cat! structuring methodology. It will take some time to do, but when it’s done, I’ll post a link to it in a follow-up post.

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  • Great post. I’m a fan of both StC and Scrivener. I’d love to see a higher-res version of that screen shot above so I can see the details of how you set it up.

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    • I don’t believe I still have the original screenshot. Sorry.

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      • Aw I was going to ask the same thing… If you find it, please let us know. It’s the most helpful part of this post! I tried to blow it up, but can’t seem to see it.

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  • Ah – thanks so much for posting this. I was wondering how to incorporate the methodology into my Scrivener workflow. I’d definitely be keen to see more about this. As I was evaluating investing in the App too.

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  • Thanks. Nice write-up. I have just started using Scrivener and still need to read STC. Can you upload a larger screenshot. It’s a little hard to make out the details.

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    • To those who are asking for larger screenshots; I’m sorry, but for a variety of reasons, I won’t be uploading HD screenshots of my work.

      First, because it’s been a very long time since this post was initially uploaded, and I no longer have the screenshot save on my hard drive that was uploaded.

      Second, because the writing material contained in the screenshot is material I intend to use, and I don’t really want anyone to be able to decipher it.

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      • Thanks John. Totally understand about not wanting people to see your writing material. I am not sure I fully understand how the beats translated into your folder heading or color-coding, but I am sure I can figure it out.

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  • So I’ve decided that what I will do, in lieu of larger screenshots, is create a STC! template for Scrivener and provide a link to that.

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  • THAT would be great. I thought it was the resolution on my monitor being set too high. I couldn’t follow what you were doing

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  • Stephanie Priestley

    Can’t wait to see it. THANK YOU!

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  • Thanks for the article, and a STC! scrivener template will be awesome!

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  • Great post – I LOVE Scrivener! In fact the only thing I don’t like about it is how far behind the PC version is to that of the Mac. So much so that I’ve actually purchased the mac version and run it on a virtual machine inside of Windows πŸ™‚ Just wondering if you had any ETA on your STC template? I actually cant believe no one has done this before now…you should make it donation-ware or at the very least donation ‘optional’ ware…Id happily throw you a few $ for your effort getting this made.

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