So You Think You Can Write-Part 4.2 Outlining with “Save The Cat”

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The Save the Cat outline comes from a screenwriting book of the same name by Blake Snyder. This outline is more detailed than a mere three-act structure and has room for subplots and more lighthearted moments.  In honor of Mean Girls Day, I will use Mean Girls with this particular outline. Happy October 3rd!

Act 1

  • Opening Image: This is a thematic image that establishes the main character’s “status quo.”  Mean Girls begins with Cady taking pictures with her parents and explaining to the audience that up until she was 16, she was homeschooled while living in Africa with her zoologist parents. Then, to quote the trailer, “it was goodbye Africa and hello, high school.”
  • Theme Stated: The theme of the movie gets presented when Cady learns about her new high school from Cool Loser Janis and “too gay to function” Damian. The theme of Mean Girls is that high school has its own set of social norms and cliques. Two scenes in particular explain the theme: When the Plastics get introduced and when Janice explains all the cafeteria cliques at lunch.
  • Set Up: The “setup” establishes the world that the movie takes place in and introduces all the major characters and motivations. In Mean Girls, Cady becomes friends with the Plastics and gets invited to sit with them for a week. She also gets a crush on Aaron Samuels, the guy who sits in front of her in math class, and gets discouraged from joining the Mathletes from both the Plastics and from Damian.
  • Catalyst: This is the plot point that gets the story moving forward. When Regina kisses Aaron in front of Cady, Cady goes to Janis and Damian. The three of them formulate a plan to humiliate Regina.
  • Debate: In some stories, this would be when the main character might refuse the call to adventure. The initial attempts at sabotage don’t work out and Cady and her friends are at a loss as to what to do. Janis tells Cady to crack Gretchen Weiners.

Act 2

  • Choice Made: When the main character chooses to accept the call to adventure or makes a choice that changes the dynamics of the story. Cady sends a candy cane grams to herself and claims that it came from Regina, but Gretchen doesn’t get any. Gretchen starts spilling secrets about Regina and everything finally comes to a boil when she gets pushed aside for Cady during the Winter Talent Show performance. Cue famous “We should totally just stab Cesar!” speech!
  • B-Story: This is where subplots start playing out. The major subplot in Mean Girls is Cady’s pursuit of Aaron Samuels. She pretends to be bad at math in order to get him to tutor her. Part of this includes getting Aaron to catch Regina cheating on him. Finally, when she kisses Aaron, she tells him about Regina cheating on him with Shane Oman.
  • Fun and Games: All the fun stuff relating to the premise of the story occurs. The protagonist is on his way towards his goal, but things are kept lighthearted. Cady gives Regina Kalteen bars to get her to gain weight. All the while, Cady starts turning into a Plastic. Then the nominees for Spring Fling Queen are announced. Regina is not surprised that she is nominated, but balks at the fact that Cady, Gretchen, Karen, and Janis were nominated. Cady herself is surprised that she is nominated for Spring Fling Queen because she and Damian just nominated Janis as a joke.
  • Midpoint: Things start getting serious as the stakes go up. The midpoint begins when Regina gets kicked out of the Plastics table for wearing sweatpants on a Monday and gets humiliated at lunch. All of a sudden, Cady becomes the new Queen Bee. She invites Aaron and her friends to a party she throws the weekend her parents go out of town. The party turns out to be a “false victory” for Cady because she vomits on Aaron, who tells her that she’s turning into a clone of Regina, and loses her friendship with Janis and Damian.
  • Bad Guys Close In: As the tension of the story builds to a high point, things only get worse. Regina finds out about how Cady has been sabotaging her and gives the burn book to the principal. She puts a page about herself in the book and implies that Cady, Gretchen, and Karen are behind it since they’re not in the book. On top of that, she makes copies of the burn book and scatters the pages throughout the school, causing chaos.
  • All is Lost: This is when the main character thinks he’s down for the count. All the junior girls in North Shore High break out into a giant catfight. Principal Duvall and Ms. Norbury gather all the girls in the gymnasium for trust exercises, getting all the girls to apologize to each other. However, Janis takes advantage of the situation to reveal all the sabotages she and Cady planned. Janis gets praised for taking down Regina while Cady becomes a social pariah after people think she pushed Regina in front of a bus and on top of that, to quote Anya Jenkins from Buffy, she’s flunking math.

Act 3

  • The Plan: To put things in baseball terms, this is the main character’s last chance at bat, standing at the bottom of the ninth with bases loaded and two men out. It’s the protagonist’s last chance to set things right. When the police investigate Ms. Norbury for allegedly selling drugs, Cady takes responsibility for what she wrote in the burn book. She brings flowers to Regina and goes back to being smart in math again. She also joins up with the mathletes to get extra credit.
  • Finale: Cady’s epiphany comes to her during the Mathletes State Championship, when she faces off against an ugly girl from the opposing team for the final round. After realizing that being mean to her opponent wouldn’t help her win the competition, she manages to solve the problem in front of her and win the Championship for the dance. Cady ends up going to the Spring Fling dance and gets crowned Spring Fling Queen. Then she apologizes for what she’s done and gives compliments to her classmates.
  • Final Images: The final image of a story should be the opposite of the opening image, with the character in a new status in life. Mean Girls ends with Cady finally fitting in with her classmates and getting the guy of her dreams. Janis gets the head of the Mathletes as her new boyfriend. Regina joins up with the lacrosse team, Karen becomes a weather girl, and Gretchen joins up with the cool Asian clique.

This outline is great for action movies, romantic comedies, and ensemble pieces. I highly recommend watching Mean Girls and analyzing the story for yourself.

P.S. If you’re wondering who that adorable gravity-defying kitten is, this is Beatrice, a cute kitten owned by my best friend Lucia Marcella. Although Beatrice and her twin sister Charlotte have been recently adopted, they are already part of Lucia’s growing menagerie, as you can see here. Be sure to follow Lucia and her adorable cats (and other animals) on Instagram:

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