The Beat Sheet
Narrative Analysis: The Basics
In the world of screenwriting, the Beat Sheet is a commonly-used tool in the writing process. The beat sheet is an abbreviated outline that distills a narrative down to its essential plot points, also known as beats. The specific plot points in a beat sheet vary between writers, but most beat sheets share the same basic plot points as the Three-Act and Five-Act structures, albeit with different names.
One of the most popular beat sheets, first published by screenwriter Blake Snyder in 2005, is known as the Save the Cat beat sheet. The beat sheet’s memorable title comes from Snyder’s belief that every screenplay should include an introductory scene that makes them relatable to the audience. “It’s the scene where we meet the hero,” says Snyder, “and the hero does something — like saving a cat — that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him.”1 The Save the Cat beat sheet is built on such foundational plot points, which combine to form a subtype of the Three-Act Structure specifically tailored to meet the tastes of mainstream movie audiences.2
As video games have matured as both a medium and a storytelling method, game writers have begun taking cues from Hollywood when writing their story structures. Although video game narratives often have vastly different pacing than the standard 120-page mainstream screenplays, they still feature many of the same plot points and character arcs. As a result, many modern games can be broken down and analyzed using the Save the Cat beat sheet.
One example of a video game that follows this formula is Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, an action-adventure game released in 2013. Set twenty years after an apocalyptic outbreak, The Last of Us tells the story of a grieving father who must guide a young girl with a rare immunity to the scientists researching the cure. Throughout their journey, these characters experience all of the plot points from the Save the Cat beat sheet, demonstrating that video games can successfully follow a Hollywood screenwriting formula. Those who played the game certainly agreed; with almost 100 critic’s reviews on MetaCritic as this article’s publication, the game retains a score of 95/1003 and has been lauded as a masterpiece for its groundbreaking infusion of narrative and gameplay.
1 Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat (Introduction). Michael Wiese Productions. Kindle Edition.
2 “And while I love the Indie world, I want to hit it out of the park in the world of the major studios. That’s why this book is primarily for those who want to master the mainstream film market“. – Snyder, Blake. Save the Cat (Introduction). Michael Wiese Productions. Kindle Edition.
3 MetaCritic. “The Last of Us: Playstation 3“. Red Ventures, 2013.
* Reference Run: GameCin. The LAST OF US 1 REMASTERED Full Movie All Cutscenes Story [4K-60FPS]. YouTube, 2019.