This blog was first published on March 26, 2007.
Let me just say up front: I love you guys! The very best bi-product of writing Save the Cat! is the fact I get to meet so many great writers all over the world who read my book and contact me via email. Against all common sense (or so I was told), I insisted on putting my email address in the book (and will again in the sequel out this fall) and every day I get at least 10 emails from writers with comments, pitches, or questions. I encourage it! And love to hear from you!
Here is one letter from Eric Broussard, a writer who has read Cat! and written a script using the BS2 and now has a question about it. I asked Eric if it was okay to post his email and my reply, because I thought it might be a good topic.
Hi Mr. Snyder,
I keep looking back at my older scripts, and my first and second scripts are … well at least they’re formatted correctly. But on my third, the one I first emailed you about set up/set pieces, something just didn’t seem right. So, I went through and read it 3 times, and I realized that the way I had it was that the DNOTS (Dark Night of the Soul) comes before the All is lost scene. I won’t say it seems horribly out of place or forced, but I don’t think that it gives the DNOTS scene enough “umph”.
So, do you think this warrants a restructuring/rewriting of those two scenes, or can this happen and be passably acceptable?
Thanks for writing me and congrats on working the methods of STC! This topic is one that comes up a lot in the workshops I teach. Here’s what I like to say about the All is Lost/Dark Night of the Soul/Break into Three in class.
All stories are about transformation. Let’s start there. This is why the BS2 is so important — and so natural. The BS2 is just a way to “check your math” to make sure you are showing this transformation. You start off every story with the Opening Image: the hero as he is BEFORE this movie starts, and end with the Final Image: the hero AFTER. And the two should show a drastic change, e.g, a loser becomes a hero, a liar becomes a truth teller, etc.
What happens in between to make this change possible? Part of any transformation is the death of something, and it occurs in my beat sheet on roughly page 75 of most scripts in what I call the All is Lost beat. But the process of something dying and being reborn is what this part of the transformation is really all about.
Think about a caterpillar that transforms into a butterfly. At some point there is a stirring in that non-winged creature, a sense of uncomfortability, a “disturbance in the force, and part of that process is pain. Letting go of what was, and what one feels safe being, is scary as hell! And part of the surrender of realizing you have no control over this change is a “death” in itself. That death has to happen first. It’s The End of the way it was.
What follows immediately after is natural and just as common sensical: Now what? What was is dead. But what’s ahead is unclear. That moment too has to be charted and shown in kind of cocoon stage. The netherworld of being neither caterpillar nor butterfly is the Dark Night of the Soul moment. What will happen next? We don’t know. And this moment MUST follow All is Lost; to precede it makes no sense.
And then… hazzah!… a new stirring. The Break into Act Three is that moment, inside the cocoon when the hero decides to be a third thing: butterfly. Literally being reborn after this horrible, uncertain dark night is what makes the “Synthesis” in Act Three possible — the exploration of this third way that is a combination of the world as it was in Act One, and the world that is the upside down version of it that’s seen in Act Two, now becomes something brand new in Act Three. 1 + 2 = 3 is the math of this formula.
It is found in nature and in art. And in a good, well-structured screenplay.
It is a rhythm we understand because we too have been reborn many times in our lives, both present life and previous lives (my opinion). More importantly, it FEELS right, doesn’t it? And that’s why these three beats come in quick succession — and in order.
Hope that helps.
We still get letters. Have a question for a Master Cat? Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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