How to Save the Cat in your Story

Cat

Save the Cat, Save the Day:

Blake Snyder’s (Save the Cat) beat-sheet of 15 dramatic units that define the entire story offers perhaps the most potent and clear advise on structuring your tale. So, far be it for me to try and modify it. I do, however, want to expand upon Mr. Snyder’s 13th and 14th beats, The Dark night of the Soul, and Finale, since I believe they may allow for a possible weakness in the verisimilitude of the story, if not properly used.

These beats follow in the wake of several others, immediately before, which show the hero at his lowest ebb. They concern the moment when, despite the hero being down and out, both physically and spiritually, his goal in tatters, he finds the strength to try again. It is the most vulnerable point of Hollywood’s ‘up endings’ — the moment when the story, which cannot allow the protagonist to fail, ushers in an event that turns the tables on the antagonist.

How do we prevent this event, this new twist, from appearing trite and forced? How do we avoid our beats being labeled ‘a typically predictable Hollywood moment?’

We concentrate on making the intersection between the visible outer journey event, and the hero’s inner journey—his backstory, the theme, and his character traits—the best and strongest it can be.

What possible justification can we offer the audience or reader to convince them that the hero can find the inner strength to try again, at this late hour? It can’t be opportunistic—an out-of-left-field event would reek of the very triteness we seek to avoid. It has to tie into the spiritual and moral strength the hero garners through pain and suffering in the outer journey. It has to tie into the theme of the story.

In Gladiator, Maximus finds himself on his knees in the arena, poisoned, swordless, and pierced by the Emperor’s blade. His efforts to avenge his murdered family and save Rome from the clutches of the madman seem ended. But his love of family and his loyalty to Rome are enough for him to find the strength to pull the Emperor’s sword from his own body, and turn it against the Emperor himself, ending the tyrant’s life.

The solution to the initially hopeless situation is deeply routed in Maximus’ moral strength and his realisation that there will be no further opportunity than this to end the tyrant’s life, ironically enough, by his own sword. It integrates the theme of the story — integrity and moral fortitude trump lascivious greed — with one last heroic act. It avoids the accusation of a forced and predictable ending. It feels right because we find it fitting that a man as righteous and noble as Maximus, who has given his life to the service of Rome, should rid it of its incestuous ruler by sacrificing his own life. It is a fine example of how the inner journey motivates and explains the outer journey, especially at the critical last points of the Blake Snyder’s beat-sheet.

Summary

Tying crucial physical events to the hero’s inner journey helps us to experience them as fitting, rather than as forced and predictable.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, kindly share it with others. If you have a suggestion for a future one, please leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the bottom right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

Image: Moyan Brenn
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

2 thoughts on “How to Save the Cat in your Story

  1. jguenther5

    Good, solid post. You’re right, the final hurdle must be jumped with both inner and outer energy acting in concert, and as much thematic relevance as possible. There’s nothing lamer than a deus ex ending where the hero’s flaw hasn’t been fully addressed and/or he/she doesn’t conquer the situation through his/her own efforts. I’ve seen this a lot in scripts by new writers. Which also seem to be mostly about struggling writers, for some unfathomable reason. Of course, my last two one-acts are both about struggling writers…Hmm. I must get out more.

    Reply
    1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

      Glad you agree. I suppose we write about struggling actors because we understand them, at least! And hey, if it’s good enough for Stephen Kimg, it’s good enough for us.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *