The Lead Reader of the Save the Cat! Screenplay Challenge Shares an Inside Look at the Most Common Writing Traps – and How to Avoid Them

The Save the Cat! Screenplay Challenge is in full swing. We’ve seen an incredible amount of entries this year, and with it, some fascinating patterns in the feedback from our talented readers. While each entry receives 50 points of analysis designed around the beats of the Save the Cat! Beat Sheet, they also receive additional comments focusing on strengths and areas of growth.

As writers continue to revise and develop their screenplays, we’d like to share the five most common feedback points we see:

1. Identify the hero, and make sure the audience can, too. It’s great to have several distinct characters, all with their own idiosyncrasies. But sometimes when writers focus on all the characters during the Set-Up beat, they’ve neglected to give the audience a clear hero to follow and root for. It’s important for an audience to lock in on a specific character. This way, it’s clear whose journey this story is, and who will grow and change. It’s the individual audiences will identify with.

2. Make sure the theme is clear. Each screenplay needs to be about something, a message that is carried through the story. Writers should reveal this through the Theme Stated beat, a point in the story where the theme is spoken to the main character, often by another character in passing. Making the Theme Stated beat clear provides the audience with an understanding of the lesson the hero will learn, and it gives us a roadmap with which to track the hero on their journey.

3. Give the hero problems from the start. Many times, a screenplay will start with a hero whose life is pretty good. However, all stories are about transformation, and it’s tough to see a big change at the end unless there’s a clear starting point to compare it to. Creating a flawed hero from the start helps audiences see this change more easily. During the Set-Up, they should be in a state of “stasis = death.” In other words, they must go on this journey. Failure to do so is the worse of two options. Additionally, you need to create a “shard of glass” and “things that need fixing,” so that both their internal and external worlds will need to change by the time the end credits roll.

4. Bring the hero to their lowest point at the end of Act Two. Two of the most crucial moments for putting the hero through the Transformation Machine are the All Is Lost and Dark Night of the Soul beats. In the All Is Lost moment, the protagonist has failed, and faces the “whiff of death.” Things can’t get worse, and now, the only way to go is up. The hero realizes this in the following beat, the Dark Night of the Soul. This is where the lesson from the Theme Stated beat is learned and acted upon, and the hero is ready to Break into Three, emerging from the chrysalis of conflict as a transformed individual.

5. Make sure the hero is actively pursuing their goal. It’s easy to make things happen to the hero. But audiences need to see the hero taking control of their destiny, pressing forth on their journey through transformation. Don’t let the hero be passive. When it’s time to Break into Two (or Three), let the hero be the one to take those steps.

Storytelling is complicated. Learning storytelling shouldn’t be. By submitting your screenplay to the Save the Cat! Screenplay Challenge, you can be confident that your script will receive the feedback it needs to elevate it into something greater, giving your audience a journey worth going on.

Learn more about the Save the Cat! Screenplay Challenge.