Save the Cat instructor John Yearley
Writer and Save the Cat! workshop instructor John Yearley

I’ve been teaching Save the Cat! as long as I’ve been teaching anything. Sometimes people get wind of this and want to hire me to teach them the beats. I always tell them the same thing: take the workshop.

Not because I can’t teach them individually (I can) or don’t want their money (I do), but because they will never learn the beats as well from me as they will from being one of eight people trying to figure it out together.

It’s a funny thing about the beats. They seem so simple, don’t they? Indeed, as Blake Snyder wrote them, they could hardly be clearer.

Any reasonably intelligent person can read Blake’s description of a Break into Two and know exactly what it means.

That simplicity, however, can be misleading.

It’s one thing to understand what a beat means. But to apply that understanding? Use it to shape that inchoate mass of images and characters and scenes that you’ve been cooking up in your head all these months, maybe even years?

Ay, there’s the rub!

To really use the beats, you need both kinds of understanding—objective and subjective. How do you turn an objective understanding (“This is what a Break into Two is”) into a subjective understanding (“This is the Break into Two in my story”)?

Working solo with a teacher can help a student get a subjective understanding, which is to say the beats for their story. And that seems like all you need. But here’s the problem: it only works once.

If you don’t learn how the beats work for every story, how will you write your next story? Or what will you do in this story if it changes in the writing (as stories often do)? You’re going to call that teacher again?

To be able to really use the beats, to make them your own, you need to understand the beats objectively. And let’s be honest… a writer being objective about their own stories (“My dream! My heart!”) is a big ask.

So where do you learn an objective understanding of the beats? From the rest of the group in your workshop. From watching seven other people do the exact same thing you’re trying to do.

I’ve taught maybe 30 Beat Sheet Workshops by this point, and I can tell you definitively that moments of breakthrough rarely happen for a student when I’m talking to them. It happens when a student sees another student going through the same thing they are. All of a sudden the light goes on: “Oh! That’s what a Dark Night of the Soul is!”

Hearing writers work out different types of stories in different mediums leads to understanding of how stories work.

A romance novelist learns from a documentarian, a memoirist learns from a horror screenwriter. When those crossovers happen, we learn that—no matter our skill or experience level—we are all just writers trying to figure out how to tell our stories.

I’ve been accused of being a bit of a dork when I say how much I like my students. People joke that I must like everyone (Really. Not. True.) But there’s a reason I tend to like my Save the Cat! students so much.

They’re people with a story to tell. They want to tell it so much they are willing to give their money, and what is (to me) their most valuable asset—their time and energy—to do it well. When a room of such people come together in a writing workshop, storytelling can be a beautiful thing.

Check out Save the Cat! Beat Sheet Workshop Availabilities>>