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What Comes After the Save the Cat Beat Sheet?

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The question I get most often from writers who follow Save the Cat is: “What do I do after I have the 15 beats on the Save the Cat beat sheet?

The 15 beats of the Blake Snyder beat sheet (or “BS2” as it’s sometimes called) can be a really useful tool for quickly figuring out the big movements of your screenplay (or any story for that matter). But how do you move forward from there? How do you turn a beat sheet into a screenplay? Once you have your 15 Save the Cat beats, there are two additional outlining steps that are pretty common and may help you bridge the gap: from 15 beats to 40 beats, and from 40 beats to scene outline.

What are the 15 beats of the Blake Snyder or Save the Cat beat sheet?

If you are a fan of Save the Cat, then these will look very familiar. But as recap, the 15 beats on the BS2 are:

  1. Opening Image
  2. Theme Stated
  3. Setup
  4. Catalyst
  5. Debate
  6. Break into 2
  7. Fun & Games
  8. B-story
  9. Midpoint
  10. Bad Guys Close In
  11. All is Lost
  12. Dark Night of the Soul
  13. Break into 3
  14. Finale
  15. Final Image

And even if you’re not familiar with Save the Cat, you can probably see how the beat sheet lays out the turning points and big movements of a story in a way that gives you a good sense of the whole thing through these 15 beats.

What are the 40 Save the Cat beats?

In Save the Cat, Blake wrote about the next step after the 15-beat beat sheet: using “The Board” – a corkboard and 40 index cards – to further beat out your story. The board is divided into 4 rows:

  • Row One = Act 1
  • Row Two = Act 2A (first half of Act 2)
  • Row Three = Act 2B (second half of Act 2)
  • Row Four = Act 3

Each of these rows gets 10 index cards, for 40 cards total – representing the 40 beats in your story.

But wait. If the 15 beats lay out your entire story then what are the 40 beats?

As I mentioned before, the 15 beats give us the turning points and big movements of the story. That means some of those 15 beats are turning points or single-scene beats, and others are the big movements, or sections of the script.

When we move to the board, it’s time to break those sections down into individual beats. And when we do that, we aim to end up with the 40 beats that fill out The Board. We’re getting more granular, making an even more detailed map at each step in the process, so you know what you’re going to write when you get to screenplay pages.

How do I go from 15 beats to 40 beats?

Now, you don’t have to use a corkboard and index cards. But I’m going to discuss this using those terms – just know you can use pen and paper, Word doc, or whatever you prefer. What’s more important is the general method we’re using to further flesh out the story.

The first step is an easy one – take the beats that are single scenes and plant those where they need to be on your board.

In Act 1, you’ll place the Opening Image, Theme Stated, and Catalyst

In Act 2A, you’ll place the Break into 2* and Midpoint

*I know this is controversial – does the Break into 2 go at the end of Act 1 or the beginning of Act 2? Personally, I think of it as a hinge that connects those two parts of the script and I’ll often place it at the end of the first row. But it depends on what the specific plot events are that we’re dealing with. In some scripts the event that serves as the Break into 2 feels like it goes at the end of Act 1, in others it feels like it goes at the start of Act 2. Put it where it feels right to you.

In Act 2B, you’ll place the Dark Night of the Soul

In Act 3, you’ll place the Break into 3 and the Final Image.

Placing those 8 beats where they belong starts to define the shape and structure of your story. That leaves us 7 of the 15 beats, which are the ones we’ll focus on expanding:

  • Setup
  • Debate
  • Fun & Games
  • **B-story
  • Bad Guys Close In
  • All is Lost
  • Finale

These are the beats that represent sections of script, rather than single scenes. So the next step is to think about the individual beats that make up these sections.

**I’ve included the B-story here because you’ll have scenes throughout the script that service this subplot or relationship. However, as noted on the BS2, you might want to introduce the B-story in Act 2A.

The goal is to come up with the individual beats that accomplish what you’ve written on your beat sheet for each of these sections. Keep in mind you are building the main conflict, stakes, individual character arcs, relationships between characters, as well as thinking about genre considerations.

15 beats to 40 beats: a movie example

Let’s say you’re writing a script called A Quiet Place. And on your BS2 for this story, the Fun & Games section says:

“The family struggles to live silently so the monsters won’t attack. They only venture away from the farmstead when they have to, but at times they must because they’re living off the land. Mom is really pregnant and will give birth any day. They’re also dealing with cracks in the family unit left over from losing their son/brother, as well as mom and dad wanting to prepare the kids to survive on their own if it comes to that.”

The Fun & Games section is a big section of the script – it takes up the first half of Act 2, right up to the Midpoint. So we’ll need to break this description into 8 or 9 beats (depending on where you’ve placed your Break into 2 card).

That might look like:

  1. Relationship between Dad and Daughter is strained. He’s treats her differently because she can’t hear.
  2. Mom and dad are in love, bonded – they want to keep their family together.
  3. Mom prepares the house to give birth and have a new baby living with them.
  4. Son is terrified to leave the farm, but Mom and Dad know he needs to learn how to survive without them. Dad is going to take him to collect fish, but won’t let Daughter come with them.
  5. Dad and Son venture off the farm to collect fish. Dad explains the “rules” of noise.
  6. At home, mom continues house chores and almost alerts creatures – the threat looms nearby.
  7. Daughter is frustrated and runs away.
  8. On the way home, Dad and Son barely escape a creature attack.

And then our Midpoint is, “Mom goes into labor” and our second row is filled.

What’s the difference between a beat and a scene?

If you complete your board, you have 40 cards representing 40 beats of your story. But it’s important to note that your movie will most likely have more than 40 scenes. How can that be, you ask?

A beat is not a scene.

The term “beat” has a lot of different uses and varying definitions. For our purposes here, a beat is a building block – a significant piece of the story. A scene, on the other hand, is generally defined as a unit of dramatic action that takes place in one location. A beat may be made up of several scenes.

We touched on this when we looked at the 15 beats of the BS2. Of the 15 beats, about half are single-scene events, and the other half represent sections of the script.

Now we’ve broken those sections down into more granular beats. But these beats may still be made up of multiple scenes. One of these 40 beats may be a small sequence of scenes, or it may require a few scenes to accomplish what that beat needs to accomplish and those scenes might be woven into that section of screenplay with other scenes that accomplish other beats.

It might be easiest to see this in action. Let’s look at a list of scenes that make up the Fun & Games section of A Quiet Place. Here is a short summary of the scenes in this section of the movie (to the best of my recollection):

  1. Dad’s trying to make a hearing aid for daughter.
  2. Mom and Dad slow-dance together, sharing music via a set of earbuds.
  3. Day 473. Mom checks her BP, checks the calendar — her due date is coming.
  4. Daughter tries to go into dad’s workshop. He tells her to stay out but shows her the new hearing aid. She doesn’t want it, doesn’t believe it will work.
  5. Son’s scared to go with dad to collect fish. Mom tells him he needs to learn these things, to be able to take care of himself, to take care of her when she’s old.
  6. Daughter wants to go too but dad won’t let her.
  7. Daughter tries the new hearing aid and gets upset when it doesn’t work. She packs her bag.
  8. By the river, Dad explains the “rules” of making noise to son.
  9. At home, mom’s doing chores – snags potato bag on a nail and almost makes noise. A tense moment and she’s relieved when nothing happens.
  10. Son asks dad why he wouldn’t let daughter come and explains daughter thinks dad blames her for their brother’s death. Dad didn’t realize.
  11. Daughter puts toy rocket on brother’s memorial.
  12. On the way home, Dad and son see dead woman; her husband screams and alerts the creatures. Son and dad hide, barely escape the danger.
  13. Mom goes into labor.

In this list, you can see scenes that accomplish each of the beats we determined we needed in this section of script. Most beats use a few small scenes to accomplish the intended purpose and those are woven together in the chronology of the movie.

When should I start writing screenplay pages?

Your process is unique to you, so when you start writing screenplay pages depends on what feels right to you — your personal writing style and process.

You could go to pages armed with just the 15 beats of the BS2. You could take it a step further and work out 40 beats, so you have an even more thorough understanding of what needs to happen in each part of your story. Or, if you like to do more of the heavy lifting up front (rather than in the rewriting phase), you could go a step further still and turn your 40 beats into a scene-by-scene outline.

WRITE SCREENPLAYS THAT GET NOTICED AND OPEN DOORS

Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.

Subscribe