Building The Beat Sheet
The Three Act Structure
Act One of the script is the Thesis of the film. It invites the reader into the normal world of the protagonist. Act Two is Antithesis. It flips the thesis upside down. The world is completely different. Sometimes there are reverse versions of characters like friends or mentors in the Antithesis. Act Three Is the Synthesis. What the hero had in Thesis, she combines with what she learned from the B story in the Antithesis and is in a new merging of the two worlds.
These three acts can be broken up into the fifteen beats of Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet. That Beat Sheet is then fleshed out across forty index cards, which the writer uses to maintain an overview of the film’s plot while crafting the script. There are four rows of ten. Act One contains ten cards, Act Two contains twenty cards and Act Three contains the final ten. Act Two is broken in the middle by the Midpoint.
Midpoint And Act Breaks
Blake’s first step, before even laying out the beats, is to ask what the Midpoint is. The midpoint is a mirror of the ending. If the ending of the film is a victory, then the Midpoint is a false victory. If the ending of the film is a defeat, then the Midpoint is a false defeat. False versions of the ending make it simpler for the author to include reverses in the plot, as it’s built in to the process. If you’ve been following along with this site, then you will already know your ending from Orson Scott Card’s MICE Quotient method. Mirroring it in your midpoint is direct. On the board of forty cards, the Midpoint ends row two.
The first row of ten cards, Act One, ends in the first plot point. This is the act break leading into Act II. This is when and how the protagonist voluntarily leaves his thesis world, and enters the upside down world.
The third row of ten cards ends in Plot Point II. This is the beginning of the synthesis of the thesis and antithesis worlds. This is the Act Break that moves the story into the final act.
The final row is, of course, Act 3, and ends with the final image of the film.
So how do we build all of this? With the fifteen beats of the blake Snyder Beat Sheet.
The opening image of the film reflects the theme in some way. In order to know what this should be, the writer must know what the theme is first. The theme is the lesson learned during the B Story. We chose the B story during the Card MICE Quotient portion of this process. The opening image is the first card on your 40 Card board.
The theme is WHAT the hero learns. The main lesson from the B story during the moment of clarity- Dark night of the soul in act II. The theme is stated out right on this beat. Then it should be worked into the b story introduction (p30), the raising the stakes at the mid point (p55), and the final push into act III.
During the setup, we see the protagonist in three places: home, work and play. Each of these is another card on the board. The theme will be stated somewhere between these three places.
Stasis=Death. There is a problem with this life and the character simply can’t stay this way. Thy must figure some way out.
Something comes into the protagonist’s life and calls her to action. Sh must perform some insane act and or leave, physically or metaphorically to an unfamiliar place. This is another card on the board.
The protagonist resists the call to action. There is a debate, either internally or externally, where the protagonist is still resisting the call. After the catalyst, select 2 of the 3 places from the setup, and make the debate happen there. Now We have 9 of 10 Act 1 cards filled.
Break Into II
The protagonist finally decides that she MUST do this thing. She has to move forward. During this first act break, the protagonist decisively embraces the future by voluntarily leaving the old world.
Start off with B story, then alternate between B story and Fun and Games, 3 alternations all together. That plus the midpoint, and we have 7 of ten cards.
Fun & Games
This part of the film is the trailer. The protagonist is doing all the cool things in the film. He is investigating the case, chasing down the bad guys, taking exams, or whatever conflict is the routine of his new upside down world. He is now Batman tying up criminals and delivering them to the police. He is now Neo, fighting sinister programs inside the Matrix with his new kung fu powers.
Start off with the B Story, then alternate between B story and Fun and Games, 3 alternations all together make six cards for this row. That plus the midpoint, and we have 7 of ten cards.
The false victory includes the public display of the main protagonist’s new hero-hood. Hero gets everything he thinks he wants.
Or if it’s a false defeat, the hero loses everything he thinks he wants. Either way, the bad guy discovers who the hero is, or where he is, the A and B stories cross, a time bomb drops, and the pace quickens.
Bad Guys Close In
The bad guys close in figuratively and literally. There are some agents coming to get the protagonist, and the protagonist’s own doubts about this life are creeping up to infect his mind. This could also be the team’s doubts about the protagonist if we have mentors, a love interest, or associates in the B Story. When the antagonist and/or her goons are closing in on the protagonist, that is an external Bad Guys Close In beat, when it’s not it’s an internal beat.
Alternate twice between external and internal bad guys close in beats twice and you have four of the ten cards in the third row. Add that to the all is lost, dark night of the soul and Break into 3, and you have 7 of ten cards of the third row of the board.
The internal part of this section has the protagonist resisting knowledge and still clinging to his old ways until it is all stripped away until...
All Is Lost
This is where the new skills acquired during the antithesis fail, and the hero has nothing left. Similar to the catalyst, in that something is done “to” the hero. But this is more serious: getting fired, mentor bing killed, losing his significant other or some tragedy.
Dark Night of the Soul
This mirrors Debate from act I, in that the character is hesitating. Finally the hero realizes they have nothing left. They give in to fate or faith. Then, the moment of clarity: they realize the answer is something learned during the B story. And they rise, preparing to synthesize what they know at the beginning, with what they’ve learned from the theme.
Blake Snyder elaborated on the Finale in his book Save The Cat Strikes Back. He broke this former single note into a five part process, making it much easier to craft the third act.
1. Gathering The Team
The team members may not be on speaking terms with the main protagonist, at this point. She will have to heal any hurts, and then gather the members, tools or weapons needed to take on the antagonist with her new and old knowledge.
2. Storming The Castle
This part should seem crazy… insurmountable odds. This is also where minor character’s arcs complete. This is where minor characters show they have fixed their flaws, which may now be useful. The plan seems to be going swimmingly, everyone’s mojo is working but then..
3. The High Tower Surprise
The hero reaches the tower, and surprise: no princess!! Our plan was overly optimistic. The antagonist knew we were coming. Any traitors are on the team exposed. We tried our best and failed.
4. Dig Deep Down
This is now the true test! We are stopped dead in our tracks. The protagonists has to let go of normal logical plans and use something else she would have never done at the beginning. This is the moment of faith, letting go, using a spiritual lesson to move forward.
5. Execution of the New Plan
The hero puts her last ditch plan into effect, and it works!
The final image of the film wraps up the story by reinforcing the theme, or lesson learned during the B Story. The five steps plus final image give you six of the ten cards.
Although it’s not on the list, I add Denouement. This is the resolution. The new life the protagonist has acquired on her journey. I like to see it on screen, rather than just an image. It also provides a seventh card for the board.
And there you have it. There are a few cards left to fill out, but the writer will almost certainly have ideas about scenes that need to be squeezed in here. The point is to have a simple blueprint for the script before writing it. The 15 beats also keeps you on track with pacing compared with your desired page count.