Act One, According to Snyder

One of the best things about Blake Snyder’s book, Save the Cat, is the Let’s Beat it Out section. In this chapter, he describes the 15 sections or “beats” of a screenplay. These are:

  1. Opening Image
  2. Theme Stated
  3. The Setup
  4. The Catalyst
  5. The Debate
  6. Break into Two
  7. The B Story
  8. Fun & Games
  9. Midpoint
  10. Bad Guys Close In
  11. All is Lost
  12. Dark Night of the Soul
  13. Break into Three
  14. Finale
  15. Final Image

I don’t write screenplays, but I think his points can be applied to a story of any kind. In this post, I want to talk about what Snyder considers the first Act of a screenplay (beats #1-#6 from above).  According to Snyder, your first Act should have the following:

  1. Opening Image: This is the “before” view of the main character and it should be the opposite of the final view. In novel, I think this would be your opening scene or first 250 words.
  2. Theme Stated: This is the theme of your book. For example, “Appearances can be deceiving”. Snyder suggests you state this in the first few pages.
  3. The Setup: This occurs at the same time as #1 and #2. It is where we meet the main character. Who is he? What problems does he need to fix? This is also where we need to “Save the Cat” (ie, give the reader something to make him likable or worth rooting for).
  4. The Catalyst: This is the action that propels the main character into the conflict. For example, someone is murdered, cheated on or physically assaulted.
  5. The Debate: This is the part where the main character considers whether or not he is going to enter the conflict. So if someone is murdered, this would be the point where he decides if he cares or if it’s his responsibility to solve the mystery.
  6. Break Into Two: At the end of this section, the main character must decide to enter the conflict. He can’t be pushed or forced in any way. When he does so, the first Act breaks and the second one begins.

This is really just a high level view of his points about Act One but I’d highly recommend you BUY HIS BOOK! It’s worth its weight in chocolate. Milk chocolate