Save The Cat Beat Sheet For Screenwriters [+ FREE Template]

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Key Takeaways:

The Save The Cat beat sheet is a screenwriting tool developed by Blake Snyder, designed to structure screenplays by breaking them down into 15 key story beats. It’s a proven method to help screenwriters create great stories for the big screen!

Click here to jump to an example of each beat from the original Rocky movie (one of my very favorite movies)!

Do you want to write a screenplay but don’t know where to start?

I know how you feel. When I started my screenwriting journey, I had only ever written short stories. I really didn’t know what to expect and assumed it would be an easy transition.

Boy, was I wrong! Screenwriting is very different from novel writing or short story writing. And it comes with its own specific rules and methods based on the experiences of the writers who came before us.

One such authority was Blake Snyder, a successful screenwriter and educator, who outlined a method to break down the classical three-act structure into 15 beats. He named it Save the Cat, and it is one of the most popular screenwriting books in the world for a reason – it works!

Once you learn the basics of story beats and how to apply them to your next screenplay, you will have all the tools you need to write creative and marketable scripts for a film. You’ll learn how to write with great plot structure and believable characters that audiences will love!

This article will give you a basic overview of a beat sheet and how to use the Blake Snyder beat sheet. I also give you my free template that you can use to start outlining your own screenplay!

What Is a Story Beat?

infographic defining a story beat

A story beat is a significant moment that advances the story. These beats can be big or small, but each one moves the story forward in some way.

Story beats often create conflict or tension, propelling the story forward and keeping readers engaged.

They can also introduce new characters or reveal important information about existing ones.

In short, story beats are the key ingredients that make up a good story. Without them, stories would be dull and predictable!

What Is a Beat Sheet in Screenwriting?

A beat sheet is a tool screenwriters use to outline the key plot points of their story.

Unlike a traditional outline, which chronologically lists the story’s events, a beat sheet highlights the most important scenes and dialogue beats. This allows the writer to focus on the characters and emotions driving the story rather than getting bogged down in the details.

While there is no set format for a beat sheet, most screenwriters find it helpful to divide their story into three acts: setup, conflict, and resolution. Each act is further divided into a series of beats, each representing a key plot point.

By outlining their story using beat sheets, screenwriters can ensure that their own story is focused and well-structured.

Why Is a Beat Sheet Important?

A beat sheet is a tool screenwriters use to outline a screenplay scene by scene. It helps to ensure that the story is appropriately structured and that each scene moves the story forward logically.

A beat sheet typically includes a brief description of each scene and the key plot points that must be covered.

A beat sheet can be an invaluable tool for writers, as it ensures that all of the critical elements of the story are covered concisely and efficiently. In addition, a beat sheet can help to identify any potential plot holes or inconsistencies before they become an issue.

As such, beat sheets are an essential part of the screenwriting process.

typewriter on a desk

What Is the Save The Cat Beat Sheet?

Screenwriters use the Save the Cat beat sheet to outline their story. It was developed by screenwriter Blake Snyder, who argued that all successful stories contain specific beats or key moments that must be hit for the story to work.

The ‘save the cat beat sheet’ lays out these fifteen beats in a specific order, helping writers structure their stories to engage and resonate with audiences.

While there is no one right way to write a story, the Save the Cat beat sheet can be a helpful tool for those struggling to get started or looking for guidance on writing a successful screenplay.

Blake has developed multiple tools for screenwriters based on his Save The Cat outlining process, including story beat cards, software to help you plot and organize your story, and personalized script coaching!

Free Download: Free Beat Sheet Template

pin for beat sheet freebie

A beat sheet is an essential tool for any writer, and we’re happy to offer a free beat sheet template to help you get started. This template contains everything you need to create a beat sheet for your screenplay.

Simply download the beat sheet template and start filling in the blanks. Once you’ve finished, you’ll have a clear overview of your story, and you can use the beat sheet to ensure that each scene is as powerful as it can be.

Download my free beat sheet template today and get started on your next great story!

15 Story Beat Examples from Rocky

Let’s take the example of the movie Rocky. We’ll look at the Save the Cat examples from this famous movie!

Beat 1: Opening Image

The opening image beat is the first beat in the Save The Cat Beat Sheet framework. This first act beat sets up the story’s world and introduces the main character. It should be a visual, unforgettable scene that gives the audience a sense of who the protagonist is and what they’re fighting for.

The opening image beat is key to establishing your story’s world, indicating your theme, and making your audience care about your protagonist.

In the film Rocky (1976), the opening image is a brutal boxing match in a rundown church, with Rocky Balboa first taking punishment and then dishing it out after a cheap shot.

This immediately establishes Rocky as an underdog with more heart than skills, trying to make something of himself despite his situation. The image of Christ’s serene face above the bloody fighters also hints at what this film is truly about – redemption and resurrection.

Click above to watch the Opening Image in Rocky.

Beat 2: Set-up

The set-up beat is the story section where we are introduced to the main character and their world. We learn about the hero’s world – their hopes and dreams, fears and flaws. We see them in their element before the story’s conflict or life-changing event comes along and shakes things up.

In a romance novel, this might be the scene where the heroine meets the hero for the first time. In a thriller, it might be the moment when the protagonist realizes that someone is following them.

The set-up beat is about setting the stage for what is to come. It’s about giving us only enough information to make us care about what happens next.

In Rocky, this beat is captured well as we follow Rocky from the opening fight through his rundown Philly neighborhood to his small apartment, where he lives alone.

He projects a carefree air with the people around him, but once alone, the veneer falls, and he’s left to confront his lifetime of failures against the dreams of his boyhood. He’s a man without purpose, reflecting on what could have been.

Click to watch the Set-Up Beat in Rocky.

Beat 3: Theme Stated

The theme-stated beat is the moment in the story where the theme or life lesson is first stated outright. This beat can linger in the background throughout the story or be a moment of realization for the protagonist.

In either case, this beat is essential because it helps to establish the story’s overall purpose and direction. Without a theme-stated beat, a story can feel aimless and directionless.

In Rocky, this moment is shown when Rocky confronts his trainer, Mickey, about losing his locker at the boxing gym. This is the one place where Rocky feels most himself, but he loses what little respect he’s had till now.

Mickey puts into words the theme or life lesson – Rocky has heart but no real skills, and his best days are behind him. Everyone underestimates him, even the one person whose approval he wants the most. Worst of all, Rocky doesn’t believe in himself.

Beat 4: Catalyst

The Catalyst is the key event in the plot structure that sets the story in motion. It’s the inciting incident that gets the Protagonist off their butt and forces them to take action.

In some stories, a Catalyst is a physical event, like a ship sinking or a house burning down. In others, it’s an emotional event, like a character receiving devastating news or hitting rock bottom.

Regardless of its nature, the Catalyst must be clear and impactful enough to convince the Protagonist that they must take action in their own life.

This can often be the most challenging beat for writers to nail, but it’s essential for moving the story. Once you’ve figured out your Catalyst, the rest of the story will start to fall into place.

When most people think of Rocky, they think this moment occurs when he’s offered a big fight, but in reality, it’s much more subtle than that.

This is a story about love and redemption, and the catalyst for Rocky’s redemption is Adrian, his best friend Paulie’s shy sister (and his love interest), and the one person who sees through his tough-guy persona to the gentle and caring soul he truly is inside.

This moment is the first glimpse of how Rocky might turn his life around if he has the one thing missing – love.

Beat 5: Debate

The Debate beat is all about opposing viewpoints. This is where the heroes and villains go head-to-head, each trying to convince the other (or others) of their point of view.

For the Debate beat to be effective, it needs to focus on an issue central to the story. The Debate can occur between two characters, or it can be a more general discussion between multiple parties.

Regardless of the format, the Debate should be engaging and generate enough tension to keep readers hooked. By its nature, the Debate beat is often antagonistic, but it can also be used to create comedic or light-hearted moments.

In the end, the Debate beat is a powerful tool for driving the plot forward and revealing important information about the characters.

In Rocky, this beat is shown through Rocky’s job as an enforcer for Gazzo, a local loan shark and mobster.

Outwardly, Rocky fits the mold of a leg-breaker, as he’s tough and menacing. But we see that he’s also compassionate and reluctant to hurt others, which puts him directly at odds with this world.

Beat 6: Break Into Two (Choosing Act Two)

Break Into Two is the moment the protagonist commits to the journey ahead. This is often when they “save the cat” – that is, do something to endear themselves to the audience.

To make this moment truly effective, set up the situation so that the protagonist has a clear choice to make.

  • What will they risk if they venture forth?
  • What might they lose if they stay behind?

By raising the stakes in this way, you can create a decisive moment of conflict.

For Rocky, this moment occurs when he finally tries asking Adrian out on a date. He’s admired her from afar and even flirted awkwardly with her, but he’s clearly never taken it further. And though she refuses, we can see that they both want to, which makes us root for them to find love all the more.

They are two flawed people who can be whole together, but for that to happen, Rocky must take the leap and try.

Beat 7: B Story

In every great story, at least two parallel plots unfold simultaneously. There’s the A story, which is the main plot, and then there’s the B story, which is a subplot that runs alongside the A story.

It is often used to add layers of depth and conflict to the main plot. In Save The Cat, the B story is known as the “obstacle beat.” This is when the protagonist encounters an obstacle that stands in the way of achieving their goal.

The B story beat can create tension and drama in a script and can also be used to resolve the conflict between characters. It should also support the A story and not be independent.

In Rocky, the A Story is Rocky’s quest for personal redemption through the boxing ring, and the B Story is the love story between Rocky and Adrian.

The two are interlinked and support each other, as we quickly see that without Adrian’s love and support, Rocky would lack the confidence and drive to keep pursuing his primary goal.

Beat 8: The Promise of the Premise

The Promise of the Premise (also called Fun and Games) is an essential beat in the Save The Cat framework, and it’s where you show how the protagonist’s decision to move forward affects their world.

In this beat, the protagonist thrives in some respect, and things finally start going their way. We also get a glimpse of the conflict that they’ll be facing.

The Promise of the Premise is about getting the audience invested in the story and the hero’s world, so they’ll be eager to see how the narrative plays out. It’s a super important beat in any screenplay. With a strong Promise of the Premise, you can hook your audience and make them feel invested as the stakes rise and we grow closer to the hero.

In Rocky, this beat is shown in several ways – with Rocky and Adrian going on their first date and quickly discovering their burgeoning love, and with Rocky’s relationship with Paulie, as well as his interaction with Marie, a local 12-year-old he tries to protect from the same influences that led him astray as a child.

It is also where we first meet Apollo Creed, the brash Heavyweight Champion of the World, who selects Rocky as his next opponent for little more than as a sideshow to fill seats.

Beat 9: Midpoint

The Midpoint beat is a big turning point in the story. It’s the moment when the protagonist realizes that the old way of doing things isn’t going to work anymore. The hero realizes that they have to change their approach if they’re going to succeed.

This new understanding usually comes at a time of great hardship or setbacks. The Midpoint beat is often used to introduce a new character or plot twist that will change the course of the story. It’s a key moment in the protagonist’s life that should be written carefully.

In Rocky, this is the moment where Rocky is offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fight Apollo Creed in an exhibition match.

It’s a turning point, not only in the story arc but in Rocky’s life. It’s so intimidating, in fact, that Rocky initially refuses because he doesn’t yet believe in himself – but to everyone’s surprise, he accepts the challenge nonetheless.

Beat 10: Bad Guys Close In

Bad Guys Close In is the tenth beat of the Save The Cat framework, and it’s when our protagonist faces their most difficult challenge yet.

All the conflicts and challenges built up throughout the story come to a head, and it seems like there’s no way out.

Our protagonist is pushed to their limits and must find a way to overcome the odds. This is usually when they discover their true strength and resolve. Bad Guys Close In is the make-or-break moment of the story arc, making or breaking our protagonist.

In Rocky, we see how accepting the big fight upends Rocky’s life and how unprepared he is for the match or the attention it brings. He tries training alone but quickly discovers he lacks the knowledge and skills. At the same time, he finds himself treated like a sideshow act – a novelty no one believes in but everyone wants to exploit.

And when Mickey shows up, hat in hand, to ask for a chance to train him, Rocky refuses at first, channeling all his frustration and anger of being ignored and ridiculed for all the years leading up to this.

But in a moment of clarity and compassion, he accepts Mickey’s offer and welcomes the support of the father figure he’s needed all along.

Beat 11: All is Lost

All is Lost is the beat where the hero has lost all hope. All seems lost, and there’s no way out. The All is Lost beat is often found just before the story’s climax. It is the point where the hero hits rock bottom and must either give up or find a way to go on.

The All is Lost beat can be a powerful moment in a story, providing both tension and hope. It’s a moment where the hero must choose to either give up or fight, and it’s often this choice that defines the rest of the story.

For Rocky, this moment occurs when he visits Madison Square Garden, the fight venue, on the eve before the big event. Filled with awe and fear, the promoter quickly reminds him that he’s only there to put on a show.

In the end, he understands that no one actually believes he has a chance, and despite his heart and the hard work he’s put into training, he’ll never have the skills to beat the champ.

This is the theme restated. It’s also a painful reality check after all his sacrifice thus far and makes him question if it was all for nothing.

Beat 12: Dark Night of the Soul

The Dark Night of the Soul is the moment after hitting rock bottom when the protagonist questions everything they’ve gone through thus far. They’re at their lowest point and have to decide: give up or keep going.

This is often the turning point in the story when the protagonist discovers some inner truth about themselves and discovers at last what they need rather than what they thought they wanted all along. The Dark Night of the Soul is a tough beat, but it’s essential for creating a compelling story arc.

In Rocky, we see this moment occur when he returns from the arena before the fight, dejected and broken, to open up to Adrian that he knows he can’t beat Apollo. But in a moment of honest self-reflection, he discovers what he really needs – to go the distance.

No one has ever lasted a full fight with Apollo, and only an act of true bravery and heart would allow a lesser fighter to do so. If he can do that, he’ll finally be more than the bum he’s been his whole life and will finally discover his true self-worth.

Beat 13: Break Into Three (Choosing Act Three)

The Break Into Three beat is the moment when the protagonist finally chooses to face the main conflict head-on. This is often the result of a rallying speech or an “epiphany” moment when the character realizes they have more to lose by inaction than by taking risks.

The Break Into Three beat marks the story’s turning point, after which there is no going back. The stakes are high, and the characters must give everything they have to overcome the odds and achieve their goal.

This is the story’s heartbeat, making readers turn the page eagerly to see how it will all turn out.

In Rocky, this is just before the fight, where both fighters are making their final preparations. All the training and sacrifice have led to this moment, and though Rocky is scared to death, he has the one thing he’s lacked his whole life – the love and support of the two people who mean the most to him – Adrian and Mickey.

He’s all in, because win or lose, he’s finally got something worth fighting for.

Beat 14: Finale

The Finale (also known as the Showdown or Climax) is the climactic beat in the three-act structure of a story. It is the most exciting part of the story arc, where the hero decides to face off against the antagonist in a final battle. The stakes are high, and the hero may face seemingly impossible odds.

The Finale is the story’s climax, and everything leads up to this moment. Depending on whether the story is a comedy (happy ending) or a tragedy (sad ending), this is either when the protagonist defeats the antagonist and saves the day or when the hero fails and the antagonist wins.

Either way, the hero has discovered some inner truth about themselves and gives it their all, secure in the knowledge that they are a better person for taking on the journey in the first place. They have either bettered themselves or the world around them through the struggle.

As expected, this beat is the big fight between Rocky and Apollo in Rocky. Though everyone underestimates him, Rocky gives Apollo the fight of his life.

No matter how much punishment he takes, Rocky just keeps coming, and he even floors Apollo for the first time in his career. As the fight drags on, Rocky even wins the respect of the crowd, something that he only dreamed of before.

At the pinnacle of the match, Apollo knocks Rocky down for what looks to be the final time, but he does the one thing he’s promised himself and no one can believe – he gets back up to finish the fight on his feet. He’s lived up to his promise – he’s finally somebody.

Beat 15: Final Image

The Final Image beat is the culmination of the story. It’s the moment when the protagonist finally achieves their inner goal, and whether they defeat the antagonist or not, they have learned the story’s lessons and come out better for it.

This beat is often used to bring closure to the story and to provide a sense of resolution for the characters. The Final Image beat can be a powerful way to end a story on a high note, even in a tragedy. When used correctly, it can leave readers feeling satisfied and hopeful for the future.

In Rocky, the final image is a lover’s embrace between Rocky and Adrian amongst the chaos of the post-fight ring.

As the scorecards are read, the world around them fades, and we realize that the final decision is meaningless compared to the true victory Rocky has already achieved. He’s proved his worth to the world and himself and found the love of his life in the process. What could be better than that?

Final Thoughts

The Save the Cat beat sheet is a great way to help you understand the basics of story structure. It can be used as a guide when writing scripts, screenplays, or even analyzing films.

By understanding the beats that make up a story, you can better appreciate why some films work and others don’t.

We hope you found this post helpful and inspired you to take a closer look at the structure of your favorite films or helped you write your own fantastic movie!

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Common Questions (FAQs)

How many pages should a beat sheet be?

The length of your beat sheet really depends on the story you’re trying to tell! That said, a good rule of thumb for page count is that each beat should be one page long. If you’re writing a 120-page count screenplay, your beat sheet should be around 12 pages. Of course, this isn’t an exact science, and some beats will be longer or shorter than others. But if you stick to the one-page rule, you’ll be in good shape.

What is the Save the Cat method?

The Save the Cat method is a screenwriting technique developed by Blake Snyder. It aids writers in creating stories that are both engaging and well-structured. Named after the “hero saving the day” movie trope, this method isn’t solely about happy endings but ensuring the entire story interests the audience. The method can be broken down into 15 beats or steps to take the reader on an emotionally satisfying and structurally sound journey.

What is the B story in Save the Cat?

In Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat method, the “B story” is a secondary plot that runs alongside the main story. While the primary plot might focus on a protagonist’s major challenge, like fixing his marriage, the B story could be another aspect of his life, such as work struggles. Even though the B story might not grab the spotlight as much as the main plot, it adds depth and layers to the narrative, making the overall story more well-rounded.

What is the difference between a treatment and a beat sheet?

A treatment is a more in-depth, extended version of a beat sheet. It includes all the necessary plot points to be included but also details the characters, setting, and events. A good treatment will give the reader a clear sense of the story and what to expect. By contrast, a beat sheet is a shorter, more concise version of a film treatment. It hits all the same plot points but in a less detailed way. This can be helpful for writers who want to focus on overall plot structure without getting bogged down in the details.

How many beats are in a screenplay?

Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat Beat Sheet is based on 15 “beats” or key scenes that should be included in a screenplay. These beats help the story flow smoothly and keep the audience engaged. While there is some flexibility in how many beats are actually included in a screenplay, most writers aim for around 10-15. This gives the story enough structure to keep the audience invested and allows for creative freedom. However, this is just a general guideline, and some scripts may have more or fewer beats.

What is the purpose of a beat sheet?

Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat Beat Sheet framework can be a lifesaver for anyone who has struggled to outline a story. Simply put, a beat sheet maps out a story’s key beats or events. Breaking down the story into its parts makes it much easier to see where the pacing needs to improve, where the conflict needs to ramp up, and so on. A good beat sheet can be used for any type of story, from novels to screenplays to stage plays.

How many beats should a short film have?

Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat Beat Sheet is an excellent framework for short films. One of the main hallmarks of a short film is its short length, so you need to ensure that the story is tightly focused. The beat sheet helps to ensure this by breaking the story down into beats or key scenes. A short film should have about 10-15 beats, giving the audience enough time to get invested in the story without becoming bored or frustrated.

Interested in screenwriting? Check out these other helpful articles!

How to Write a Screenplay Synopsis: 7 Tips for Screenwriters

How to Write a Montage in a Script: The Ultimate Guide

How to Write Dialogue in a Script: Tips for Screenwriters

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