Posted On October 23, 2013 by Print This Post

Using Scrivener to Save the Cat by Pat Haggerty

pat_haggertyOdds are, you’ve heard of Scrivener, even if you haven’t tried it. You’ve probably also read the late Blake Snyder‘s classic guide for writers, SAVE THE CAT. RU’s tech wizard Pat Haggerty shares his unique perspective on the two at Romance University today.

Have you ever attended a class on writing theory or story structure and for whatever reason, the content meshed into your writers brain in that “Damn, I can’t wait to get out of here and put that to work” kind of way? Well that’s the way it was for me when I was at RWA Nationals earlier this year and went to the, Save the Cat! workshop taught by Jessica Brody. It was on the schedule at the same time as a couple of sessions I didn’t need and one that I didn’t want, and I really attended it just to have something to do before the workshop that came after.

Boy, was I pleasantly surprised. And that’s saying something, because I’m an organic writer (pantster) and usually I think of most writing techniques are like good fertilizer: you toss them into the mental mix to help your brain work as it forms the story, but you don’t bring them to the front of your mind or you’ll become too wrapped up in the details of the particular theory and lose the story.

Does that even make sense? I hope so.

Save the Cat! (STC) is mostly a story structure methodology pined by Blake Snyder and designed for screenwriters. Wait, did you just say screenwriters? Yes, I said screenwriters. It’s detailed in Blake’s book, Save the Cat and extended in his followup Save the Cat Strikes Back. Though designed with the screenwriter in mind, STC offers a myriad of excellent insights for anyone wanting to create a compelling story, written or visual.

Oh, did I mention that I’m a geek? Yea, I’m that friend that you’d call if your printer quit printing or you couldn’t get online. When my parish priest lost two years of pictures because he accidentally erased the only copy from the memory card in his camera (head-desk), he called me. You want to hear something funny, listen to phone message left by an 80yr old Irish Catholic priest named Mike regarding files accidentally deleted from the flash card for his camera.

So the night after Jessica gave her great STC workshop at RWA nationals, I went back to my room, fired up my Apple Air, and opened the best editor for writers I’ve ever seen: Scrivener. Then I wondered, “How can Scrivener help with save the cat?”

In STC you start with your logline; that one “What is it and what’s it about” sentence that sums up your whole story. Since you want to be able to review your logline at any point in your writing (even though it might change over time) a great place for it is in Scrivener’s “Project Notes” section. “Project Notes” sit at the bottom of the inspector pane on the right side of the Scrivener interface.

If you don’t see the inspector, open it by pressing the big I at the top right corner of your interface. At the bottom of the inspector are some buttons and the leftmost, when selected, will display the Notes section in the inspector. If the notes section reads, “Document Notes” click on the heading and select the Project Notes option.

Logline in Project Notes

Note: That’s the logline for my WIP today. When I started a couple of months ago it read, “Man gives up the priesthood to find Gods greatest gift, love.” Needless to say, my story has changed a bit as it has evolved. That’s ok. As your focus changes, so does your logline.

Once you know what you’re writing, even if it is from the 20,000ft view, you think a bit about whom your writing. What’s your protagonist like? Antagonist? Support characters? If you’re like me and you’re going to meet most of these people as the story evolves that’s fine, but even I have some idea about the key players before I start. Scrivener has a built in character sketch that you can use and you can modify its template any way you like to make it work best for you.

Character Sketchs in Binder

After the whom planning, it’s time to lay in the story structure. At its heart STC follows a three act, 15 beat layout that combines the best elements of character arc and plotting. The structure goes like this:

1. Opening image: This that first part of the first scene that grabs the reader and leaves them saying to themselves, “This is going to be good.” It might give us a glimpse of the hero or the setting but more than anything it makes the reader want to keep reading. This is Eve Dallas waking up from a dream that left her shaking just 6 hours after having killed a man or the Jack Reacher what opens with, “Suicide bombers are easy to spot. They give out all kinds of telltale signs.”

2. Setup: The setup continues the opening image and introduces us to the key players, showing us the way they are before the story sets out. It’s typically multiple scenes and shows us what needs fixing. This is Harry Potter living under the stairs and Eve Dallas heading into work after the bad night only to head right back out on another homicide. Katniss as she wakes up in the district and she and Gale sneak out to hunt.

3. Theme Stated: Somewhere in your setup you need a scene that states the theme of your story. This is what the hero really needs and it’s almost always dropped in through some secondary character. This is the heroine’s sister coming up behind her snarking, “You don’t need a man to make you happy girl.” Or when Gail suggests that they ditch it all and run away so they don’t have to live by the Capitol’s rules any more.

4. Catalyst: something changes. This is at most a single scene where you write your inciting incident; the thing that’s going to force the protagonist to either accept something terrible or make a real change. This is when Prim’s name is drawn for the games or when Hagrid shows up with Harry’s invitation to Hogwarts.

5. Debate: A handful of scenes where your lead character decided what’s going to happen now and are they going to accept the challenge or are they going to chicken out. This is Katniss getting ready to go to the games and Harry getting ready for school. It also ends Act I.

6. Break in 2 (starts Act 2): this is a single scene where the lead character, motivated by what he wants (not what he really needs), accepts the challenge and starts out towards the rest of the story and the change that it’s going to bring. This is Katniss at the Capitol getting ready for the games.

7. B Story: this is another single scene that introduces something to help the protagonist along the journey. It comes somewhere in the Fun and Games section (so not always right after the start of act 2). This might be the first hints of romance between the lead and the romantic interest. It could also be the introduction of a side kick of some kind. This is Harry meeting his friends on the train and Peeta when he confesses his love for Katniss in the interview.

8. Fun and Games: This is the hero moving along the path. It could be the romance forming or the hero fighting monsters. It’s the largest single section scene count wise and is going to make or break your book for the readers. This is Eve working on the murder and Katniss fighting in the games. Harry at school taking classes.

9. Midpoint: A single scene where something fairly major happens to change the direction of the hero’s path through the story. The hero for the first time sets out to find what he needs rather than what he wants. Typically this is a high or low point compared to what we’ve been moving through, but it might be very temporary. The stakes will be raised and the status quo broken. This could be the characters having sex for the first time or some big setback for the hero. This is Katniss disabled after being stung and she thinks she might die when when Peeta shows up. This is Eve and Roarke having their first sex in the target room.

10. Bad guys close in: This is a multiple scene section that tends to offset the midpoint. If it was a high, we are heading down and visa versa. While the things are getting worse (better) the hero realizes that something fundamental needs to change. This is Katniss getting over the venom and Rue working with her as a team. Things are looking up and going relatively well.

11. All is lost: A single scene where we hit yet another catalyst. This is where it looks like the hero has finally been defeated and that all is lost. This is Rue dying Katniss’ arms as Katiniss sings to her.

12. Dark night of the soul: For several scenes typically, the hero is lost and broken. He’s wallowing in what’s happened and is just before realizing that what he wanted all along isn’t what’s important after all. This is the moment just before the hero’s true evolution and change. This is Katniss decorating and burying Rue’s body. She receives a gift of bread from District 11 and thanks them. End Act II.

13. Break in 3: A single scene that starts Act III. The hero now knows what needs to be done and realizes that everything up to this point has happened so they could do what comes next. He knows what needs to be done and sets about doing it. This is Eve deciding to work with Roarke for real to solve the murder and the games keepers announcing that they would allow two winners in this years games.

14. Finale: A multi scene section (typically one of the largest behind Fun and Games) where the hero takes what he was in Act I, combines it with what he learned in Act II, and uses it to follow a true path to change. This is Katniss and Peeta or Roarke and Eve working together.

15. Final image: This is a final lingering scene showing what things have become. Our happy ever after glimpse. It may be effective if this is a mirror somehow of the opening image in beat 1. Katniss and Peeta joining hands on the train, Eve battered and bruised in Roarke’s arms, pressing a kiss to his throat and saying, “I’m glad you’re here. Be nice if you stuck around.” Then they both hope that there will be no dreams.

The best way to track the beats in Scrivener is to use the Status in general metadata part of the inspector.

Open the Inspector and in the central General section, open the menu next to Status and choose Edit.

Change the Custom Title to Beats.

Remove the existing labels by selecting them and hitting the minus.

Add in each of the 15 beats.

Status Beats

Now set the beat on each of your scenes/chapters/sections depending on what writing style you have when you use Scrivener. To best see your beats, switch to the corkboard and enable View | Corkboard Options | Show Stamps.



If you get into the whole STC thing and want to use it over and over again with Scrivener, read a bit on how to create a template in Scrivener and that will help a lot. That way you can set things up just once and use the general project over and over.

I think that’s about all I have for y’all this evening. Please feel free to post any questions you might have below and I’ll try my best to answer what I can. And please, make sure to pick up a real or electronic copy of Save the Cat and see all the nuggets that I didn’t have time to talk about today.



Have you tried Scrivener? How do you like it?

RU weapons expert ADAM FIRESTONE will be here Friday to discuss caliber designations.


Bio: After four years in the USMC, Patrick Haggerty studied Actuarial Science and Computers at Georgia State University. He has spent the past 15+ years developing and delivering technical training courses for Learning Tree International. On the side he has a successful consulting practice doing web application development for clients ranging from the United State Marines to Delta Airlines.

Seven years ago, stuck reading a mediocre book in yet another hotel, Patrick decided to try his hand at fiction. He may not be published, but these days you are much more likely to find him spending his evenings writing romance, than code. Patrick is an active member of RWA, RWAustralia, RW New Zealand, and is VP of Membership for Gulf Coast Romance Writers of America, and VP of OIRWA.

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57 Responses to “Using Scrivener to Save the Cat by Pat Haggerty”

  1. OMG. This is crack for those of us who are both beat sheet and Scrivener obsessed. Wonderful article. Thanks!

    Posted by Tiffany Allee | October 23, 2013, 2:51 am
    • Glad you liked it. I think a bit more could be done with some keyword usage, but I think this is easy and it creates a nice base from which to work the two together.

      Posted by Pat Haggerty | October 23, 2013, 2:57 pm
  2. WOW! thanks for putting all of this together into one post. Terrific.

    Posted by Carol Baldwin | October 23, 2013, 7:09 am
  3. Great article Patrick! Thank you!
    Kelly 🙂

    Posted by Kelly L Stone | October 23, 2013, 7:11 am
  4. Great post. Thanks so much for sharing. I am new to Scrivener and while I love the initial brainstorming and laying out my story at a high level, the actual plotting is one of the banes of my wriing existence. Thanks for this post.

    Posted by LaTessa Montgomery | October 23, 2013, 8:16 am
  5. Thank you for the fabulous and incredibly detailed post, Pat! Speaking as someone who is naturally well-organized but structurally deficient when it comes to writing, your breakdown really appeals to the accountant in me…

    Posted by Lori Schafer | October 23, 2013, 8:18 am
  6. Hi Patrick,

    I bought your book.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | October 23, 2013, 8:24 am
    • Sorry to say Mary Jo, but I don’t have a book published yet 🙂

      If it’s the book on doing presentations then it’s my cousin’s book. I’m sure he thanks you, ha.

      Thanks for the thought though!

      Posted by Pat Haggerty | October 23, 2013, 2:55 pm
  7. I keep hearing about Scrivener but haven’t tried it yet. This may be the extra nudge I need to give it a shot. SAVE THE CAT was one of the first books I read when I started writing – it’s clear and direct, and easier to follow for new writers than a lot of more complicated books. Both of Blake Snyder’s books are on my “writer’s craft” bookshelves.

    Thanks for this, Pat! It could potentially make this organic writer’s life a lot easier. I say “potentially” because if there’s a way for me to complicate things, I will. *sigh*

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 23, 2013, 8:40 am
  8. Morning Pat!

    I own Scrivener and have taken your wonderful classes on how to run it. I’m about to employ it in nano in a few days – can’t wait! And boy is this the timeliest post ever!

    Thanks for a grrrrrrrrrrrrreat post!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | October 23, 2013, 9:07 am
  9. Yay! This is such perfect timing. I opened my computer ready to get my plot set up in Scrivener, and I searched for a little STC refresher, and found this! Thank you for the wealth of information, and the great organizational idea.

    Posted by Eliza Hirsch | October 23, 2013, 10:54 am
  10. Great post and info Pat. I bought Scrivener after a workshop with Gwen Hernandez but haven’t played with it all that much. You have inspired me. Thanks.

    Posted by Nanci Race | October 23, 2013, 12:24 pm
  11. Hi Pat,

    Like you I rushed out and bought both. I find them invaluable. I am still looking forward to you doing another Scrivener workshop. I am reasonably proficient, but sure there are things that are missing. Just in the process of fleshing out the story I plotted through STC. Finding it much easier because STC helps me cover all bases right from the start.


    Posted by Sarah Hegger | October 23, 2013, 12:41 pm
  12. You are brilliant! Thanks!

    Posted by Jess | October 23, 2013, 12:46 pm
  13. Thanks to everyone for all the positive feedback. I really appreciate it.

    Posted by Pat Haggerty | October 23, 2013, 2:57 pm
  14. Hi Pat,

    I’m playing with Scapple and Scrivener. Scrivener’s name generator is pretty cool.

    I have a question about the cork board. Is there a way to add spacing between sentences, like you would between paragraphs?

    Thanks for another informative post!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | October 23, 2013, 3:27 pm
    • Hey Jennifer,

      Not really. You can manually drop in a couple of returns to insert a blank line but that’s about it. Scrivener doesn’t let you do much formatting on the cards at all. I have seen people do things like
      G: ….



      But again, that’s just inserting manual blank lines. If you want a scene specific document that allows formatting look at the Document Notes for the scene. Of course it won’t show on the Corkboard but it sill might help.

      Is there something specific that you’re trying to do?

      Posted by Pat Haggerty | October 23, 2013, 5:04 pm
  15. I’m taking Pat’s current class on using Scrivener and he is an excellent teacher.

    Posted by Kathy Frost | October 23, 2013, 3:42 pm
  16. Having signed up for Pat’s Scrivener class (currently slogging through!) and also for the Savvy Smackdown where I’ve succumbed to Snyder and beat sheets, I’m extra interested in seeing the two come together.
    Now back to the grind

    Posted by Monica Stoner | October 23, 2013, 7:07 pm
  17. Drat! I really wanted to download a copy of your Scrivener file so that I could see how you arranged it and the way that it worked with your story.

    But I waited until I came home and it is no longer linked.


    Posted by JR Holmes | October 23, 2013, 8:35 pm
  18. And, I realize moments later that I was thinking of a separate article about the joint writing of a novel in 1 day (, which offered the example Scrivener project file.

    Ignore the fool sitting in the corner.

    Posted by JR Holmes | October 23, 2013, 8:41 pm
  19. It has been three-3-days since I first read about Scrivener. (And I can’t even remember where I read it.) I have just had my novel accepted by a publisher. It took me four years to come up with the story line and plot, and when it all began to fit together, I was loaded with notebooks and index cards. Millions and millions of each. I kept thinking “There has got to be a way I can do this on my computer.” Every time I went to the library or the local wifi restaurant, I looked like a 20 mule team packing out borax.

    I am a poor man, and so I will try the free download to play around with while I wait to see if I remain a poor man. But thanks for the article on Scrivener. It has opened up new possibilities, including the possibility of writing on airplanes. For some reason . . . . Well, I’ve said enough. I’ll just try it. Thank you again.

    Posted by Jim | October 24, 2013, 11:34 am
  20. Great concise plotting summary. Thanks, Pat. This post is a nice enrichment to the Savvy Authors Scrivener course I’m currently taking with you. Until I started that course, Scrivener just sat unused in my computer. Now I’ve converted all my novel-in-progress bits over from Word. I’m so glad I gave Scrivener a try.

    Posted by Janet | October 24, 2013, 1:37 pm
  21. Thanks so much for hanging out with us today, Pat!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | October 24, 2013, 3:11 pm
  22. I got all of the way through this, but I couldn’t get the “save the stamps” to work on the corkboard. ANy ideas? thanks

    Posted by Carol Baldwin | October 24, 2013, 4:22 pm
    • Hey Carol,

      If you’ve gone in and set up all the beats in the “Status” settings of the Inspector then
      –>Make sure you’ve actually set the status on a scene or two and also

      –>Select the Manuscript folder and make sure the main editor window goes into corkboard view. If it doesn’t, then click on the double check the “View the corkboard” button up on the toolbar. With the corkboard active, go to View | Corkboard Options and make sure you see a check next to Show Status Stamps.

      If this still doesn’t work, let me know.


      Posted by Pat Haggerty | October 24, 2013, 11:17 pm
  23. Thanks, Pat. I set the Beat as default and then it showed up in Inspector. Somehow I must have clicked on the right thing because it’s working now. I assume I can’t get that “stamp” to show in a printed outline? I am attempting to create an outline with the cards. Thanks so much for your help. This blog came at a PERFECT time for me as I start a new draft of my WIP.

    Posted by Carol Baldwin | October 25, 2013, 7:40 am
    • I don’t think they show up on the print, no. But remember if you put Scrivener in the outline view, you see the Beat column there. So that might be a nice view for you to work with.


      Posted by Pat Haggerty | October 25, 2013, 3:31 pm
  24. I’m in Pat’s class on Savvy Authors also. I have to say I’d heard authors talk about Scrivener and didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Most loved it, some hated it. Me, I can’t wait to work more with it. I downloaded the NaNoWriMo trial and fully plan to purchase it. Pat has shown us so much to do with it. I am truly amazed at what Scrivener does and Pat has shown us how easy it really is to work in.

    Posted by Pat Marinelli | October 28, 2013, 7:17 pm
  25. Thanks for this. I’m new to scrivener and just read STC, so this is very timely. Can you do one favor for this OCD, grammar-obsessed reader? Can you fix the typo in “you think a bit about whom your writing” for me? It will allow me to stop twitching and get some sleep. 🙂

    Posted by Johnny | November 27, 2013, 6:02 am
  26. I tried Scrivener for a week after I switched from PC to Mac in late September. It has revolutionised my way of writing in so many ways. I purchased Scrapple shortly after, best spent money on Mac software ever.

    These blogs and articles about Scrivener I read from time to time just emphasize how good the software really is. Thanks!

    Posted by Danny | November 27, 2013, 1:06 pm
  27. Oh, I use Scrivener and Save the Cat together- thought that not many people would! I also use part of the Snowflake Method. Together those 3 methods help me write the plan for the story, they’re great.

    Thanks for this article 🙂

    Posted by Lily Byrne | December 3, 2013, 3:09 pm
    • Hey Lily,

      Glad you found the article useful and you’re not alone. If you do some searching around the net you will find several blog posts detailing techniques for integrating Snowflake into Scrivener, there are even some templates you can find to help.

      Cheers and happy writing.

      Posted by Pat Haggerty | December 4, 2013, 7:54 pm
  28. I am very new to the program. I have set up the beats as shown in the Metadata in the Status tab. How do I get from that to that to seeing the beats on the index cards as shown. I have enabled View | Corkboard Options | Show Stamps. I right clicked on the default Scene and selected “Beat/Opening Image” but still don’t have cards or labeling as you show?

    Posted by Frank Rogala | January 10, 2014, 3:13 pm
    • Hey Frank,

      Your index card scenes are in the Manuscript folder, right? Under Manuscript if you have sub-folders that contain scenes then click on the subfolder to see all the index cards for the scenes in that folder. If you’re foregoing folders then just click on Manuscript.

      If clicking on the folder/Manuscript doesn’t show any index cards, then toggle the view by pressing the little icon up on the tool bar to left of the search box that looks like a bulletin board with two index cards on it. Make sure you’ve selected a folder or Manuscript before doing this.

      Let me know if that helps.


      Posted by Pat Haggerty | January 12, 2014, 6:45 pm
  29. Googled info on STC for novel writing and found your article. I have 2 of the STC books and recently started using Scrivener. Your article is fantastic for incorporating the two. Just started following Savvy Authors on twitter. Thanks for writing this! And oohrah I’m a Mom of a Marine just finishing his 4 years this summer! Thank you for your service!

    Posted by Tammie McElligott | May 8, 2015, 7:39 am
    • Hey Tammie,

      Good for you and him and Semper Fi. Glad you enjoyed the article and best of luck to you. Let me know if you have any questions.


      Posted by Pat Haggerty | May 11, 2015, 9:09 pm
  30. Great article! I;ve long been a fan of STC, and just got into Scrivener this week. I love the idea of having the beats stamped on the index cards.

    Posted by Shannon | May 22, 2015, 2:53 pm
  31. I learned about how to use Scrivener and STC to plot stories from Ara Grigorian’s workshops. I didn’t know how to use the two tools together, but your blog came up in the top 10 search results, so thank you!

    Posted by Kristin Johnson | September 13, 2015, 3:38 pm


  1. […] Writer Pat Haggerty is a whiz at Scrivener (and shared his wisdom via a well-regarded Savvy Authors class that my fellow RWA chapters members enthusiastically endorse) but in his post at Romance University, he kindly illuminates how writers can employ the “Save the …. […]

  2. […] I haven’t tried the Save the Cat technique yet, but my Scrivener instructor has some tips on doing that here. […]

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