My 15-point beat sheet is proving to be the secret weapon of storytellers everywhere.
One person explained the success of this and other Cat! tools by relating a key moment in the evolution of the sport of scuba diving.
That’s what I said when he told me.
But what my friend went on to explain makes total sense.
Up until the 1960s, he said, scuba diving was considered too intimidating for the average person. You had to be a Navy seal, or a millionaire, to participate. Then two guys developed what became known as the PADI method (Google for further info) that changed all that. Thereafter both grandmas and little kids could take a 30-minute lesson at Club Med and soon be in the swim. The method makes scuba diving open to everyone via its simplicity, and mostly — it takes the fear out of it!
That’s what Cat! has done. Screenwriting doesn’t have to be the Temple of Doom. You don’t have to be a Jedi Master to enjoy it. And Cat! does not boom at you with the stentorian warning of: You’ll never be good at this, consider yourself lucky to even be here!
We say: Welcome! Bien venu! Come on in!
The water’s fine!
In my now much-touted beat sheet, point #14, however, may seem a little too simple. I call it “Finale” and in the book I suggest you use it to finalize the arc of your hero and “sum up all your B, C, and D stories.” (Well, thanks a pantload, Blake!)
But in teaching Cat! classes these last two years (Happy Anniversary to those of you who began with me in Christmas 2005 — one of whom sold a big spec in 2007!), I realize I’ve had a little trick all along that I should have disclosed in the book.
I call it “The Five-Step Finale.” And I use it all the time.
For those of you wondering how to end your story, and what needs to get done in Act Three, try this:
Think of every Finale in terms of “storming the castle.”
Step 1: The hero, and the hero team, come up with a plan to “storm the castle” and “free the princess” who is “trapped in the tower.”
Step 2: The plan begins. The wall of the castle is broached. The heroes enter the Bad Guys’ fort. All is going according to plan.
Step 3: Finally reaching the tower where the princess is being kept, the hero finds… she’s not there! And not only that, it’s a trap! It looks like the Bad Guy has won.
Step 4: The hero now has to come up with a new plan. And it’s all part and parcel of the overall transformation of the hero and his need to “dig deep down” to find that last ounce of strength (i.e., faith in an unseen power) to win the day.
Step 5: Thinking on the fly, and discovering his best self, the hero executes the new plan, and wins! Princess freed, friends avenged, Bad Guy sent back to wherever Bad Guys go when they are defeated (Two Bunch Palms?) — our hero has triumphed.
This 5-step sequence can be seen in Gladiator, Die Hard, Star Wars, and recently in Enchanted. But in truth it is the basis of many finales. It doesn’t have to be an action hero or involve a castle to work. But it’s a quick way to find what your story is really about! As I say in the article I wrote for Writers Store called “The Moment of Clarity,” all stories are about being touched by the transforming power of the divine, and the Five-Step Finale is a quick and easy way to synthesize that.
Try it and see! And happy scuba diving! I mean… screenwriting!
p.s. Saw I Am Legend Friday at The Grove in Los Angeles! And there is a moment right up front when star Will Smith actually saves a cat! (Even though the cat is the lion cub of a predator who wants the deer good Will is hunting, it’s in there for only one reason: to show why we should like the hero!) So here’s the deal, if you go to I Am Legend this Christmas, I want all Cat! fans upon seeing this beat to yell out as loudly as you can: “Save the cat!” Please write and tell me in this comment section how it goes. And btw, refunds will be happily provided by moi if this causes you to be kicked out of the theater!
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