I am deep into writing my third Cat! book, titled Save the Cat! Strikes Back. This is the “troubleshooting” Cat! — the one with the most information for fixing any aspect of your script… or career! Writing Cat! 3 also gives me a chance to add what I’ve learned teaching the Cat! method in the past three years, and for that I am ever grateful — because I keep learning new tricks every time I stand in front of a writer’s group and give a talk.

I was in Vancouver this weekend for a quick one-day event and wow! what a great bunch of writers. I feel like we finally have the beginnings of a “hit ’em again harder” Cat! writer’s group in B.C. that will get in there and fight to make their scripts the best. I will be posting more details about who will be running the group and how to contact them. Meantime, my thanks to Vancouver’s best education source for creators of all kinds, Biz Books, and their own Cat! for putting together such a great event.

One of the things we discussed this weekend is the most basic need in good story craft, and one I am right in the middle of writing about in STC! 3 — namely, finding the “spine” of the story. And once again, by talking about it, I learned something new Saturday.

In the first Save the Cat! I propose that every good tale hits the 15 beats of my beat sheet, the infamous BS2! But I now propose further that Step One of any story breaking adventure must begin with only three of those points: The Opening Image, The Final Image, and The Midpoint.

These three points block out what your story will be.

How does this movie begin and how does it end? That’s the key to finding the Opening Image and the Final Image. It’s what I call “snipping the ends” of the story… and it couldn’t be more vital. After coming up with the idea and logline for your script, answering this question is the next step.

In the beginnning of Liar Liar, Jim Carrey is a liar; by the end he’s not. What happened? In the Opening Image of Sleepless in Seattle Tom Hanks and his son are burying his dead wife; in the Final Image, Tom and his son walk off with Meg Ryan. Wow! Something big went on there, a complete reversal! This drastic change, these opposites MUST be huge, upside down, night and day differences. It’s a difference that we need as an audience to be in there — otherwise why invest in the hero’s journey?

As to the Midpoint, this continues to be the nerve center of any script for me, with more and more “things” adding to its mystique. If you can crack the Midpoint, you’ve cracked the story. Just look at all the things that happen there: It’s where there’s either a “false victory” or a “false defeat”; it’s where the “stakes are raised” and “time clocks” appear; it’s where the Bad Guys learn the Good Guy’s secret (Die Hard) or his whereabouts (Witness, E.T.); it’s where the boy and girl kiss for the first time (Sex at 60!); where big parties and events announce the hero getting “everything he thought he wanted” (Bruce Almighty) or in the event of a “false defeat,” take that same totality away (Legally Blonde — remember Elle Woods in her bunny ears?)

And it is EVER thus: be it indie, big budget blockbuster or sitcom — crack the midpoint, crack the story.

Those three points constitute the “spine” and must be addressed first. On Saturday I realized that this is something we will likely add to our software, too. Perhaps it is a three-point beat sheet that precedes the 15 Beats, yet one more failsafe to stop writers from moving on until they vet the way they are creating their story. After coming up with the killer idea, breaking out these three points guarantees success.

I can’t wait to continue sharing ideas in the Cat! books to come. Everywhere I go to bring this easy method to writers who want to win in this, the greatest time ever to be a writer with a vision! With more opportunity than has ever been available before, how can we fail?!

So long as we keep on our mission — good stories, well told — we too will win every time.