Blog the cat, Chapter Five – the Board.

Blog the cat screenwriting index.

Okay, in chapter 5 of Save the Cat, “Building the perfect Beast,” Blake Snyder waxes eloquent on The Board. I’m going to skip all of the superlatives, glowing praise, and industry anecdotes for now, and get down to describing the core idea.

You set up a big, flat, vertical working space – Blake prefers a corkboard that he can pin index cards to, and use this to arrange your story ideas on. It’s a way of working with the screenplay structure that’s visual, tactile, and ‘a great time-waster’, except that the point is that the time isn’t actually wasted, in the end. It’s just being put to a use that isn’t immediately obvious, because as you play with the board and keep rearranging things, the ideas are being arranged and correlated by your subconscious mind in a way that you could never achieve with conscious disciplined hard work staring at a blank Celtx screen.

Like a lot of Blake’s notions, the Board is fairly structured. He sets it up in four rows of approximately ten scenes each, (plus or minus one spot per row, but still to come up to a total of forty scenes per screenplay.) The timeline of the movie gets arranged on this board a little like a really huge Fan expo autograph line, going left to right across the top row for Act One, then turning the corner, going back the second row and across the third for Act Two, then back the bottom row for Act Four.

I haven’t actually tried any of this out with a real board myself, but I’m starting to think about places in my apartment where I could actually fit one.

So let’s see, what else is important? Each scene card has a little notation on it for whether the shift in emotional tone is upwards or downwards, (every scene should have some kind of shift,) and the source of conflict in the scene. Act three is usually light when you first start working with the Board, sometimes just two key scenes: “The hero figures out what to do now” and “The showdown.” This will usually work itself out as you keep working on the board, thinking about the details that you’ve set up in act one and the B, C, D stories. Blake also talks about color-coding scene cards, and does a gratuitous plug of in this chapter.


Exercise 5.1: Work up a board for one of the movies that you’ve done a beat sheet on. I chose to do the board for ‘The Princess Bride’, and it’s not quite in board layout, but here are the scenes:

Act one:
Grandpa visits a sick little boy
Buttercup and Westley’s intro
Murdered by pirates is good!
Humperdinck introduces his bride to the people
Buttercup is taken by Vizzini
Some local fisherman out for a pleasure cruise
Buttercup jumps in among the shrieking eels
Fezzik climbs up the cliff
Inigo helps the Man in Black up
* Inigo tells the story of the six-fingered man

Act two, before the midpoint:
Inigo and the man in black fence
Fezzik wrestles with the man in black
The prince tracks Buttercup
* Vizzini loses his battle of wits
Buttercup and the Man in black argue
Westley’s true identity is revealed
Buttercup and Westley enter the fire swamp
Westley tells Buttercup his story
Battle with the R.O.U.S
Buttercup surrenders to save Westley’s life

Act two, after the midpoint:
Westley is taken to the pit of despair
Buttercup has a bad dream of marrying the prince
The prince offers Buttercup a deal
The prince discusses his true plot
Westley is put through the machine
The thieves’ forest is cleared
* Fezzik rediscovers Inigo
Buttercup finds out that the Prince betrayed her
The prince turns the machine up to fifty
Inigo and Fezzik find the man in black, dead
Miracle Max gives them a pill

Act three:
Westley comes up with a plan
There will be no survivors
Buttercup and the Prince’s wedding
Give us the gate key
* Inigo challenges Count Rugen
Buttercup finds Westley
Rugen and Inigo fight to the death
Westley challenges the Prince ‘to the pain’
Happy ending.

Exercise 5.2: Pick four favorite scenes from that board, and list what the starting emotional tone is, the ending emotional tone, and in what direction it shifts.

* Inigo tells the story of the six-fingered man

Starting emotional tone: Relatively low. Even though Inigo helped the man in black up, neither of them trust each other, and we as the audience don’t know who to root for.

Ending emotional tone: A bit higher than normal. The two of them have clearly bonded in warrior fashion over Inigo’s tale, and both respect each other now, though they still have to fence.

Trend – Upwards.

* Vizzini loses his battle of wits

Starting emotional tone: A bit lower than normal. The audience (and Buttercup) still aren’t clear about the Man in Black, but it’s clear that Vizzini is a meanie, and he seems to have the upper hand – he’s got a knife to Buttercup’s throat, and he’s plotted out this scenario that the Man in Black is following along with.

Ending emotional tone: Just a bit higher than the start. Vizzini is dead, but the Man in Black beat him by being more clever and ruthless, willing to poison himself for years just so that he had a way to cheat. We’re still not clear what he wants with Buttercup, but he’s got her.

Trend – only slightly upwards.

* Fezzik rediscovers Inigo

Starting emotional tone: Quite low. The prince’s plans appear to be working out, including clearing out the thieves’ forest, and Inigo has become this miserable drunken wreck.

Ending emotional tone: Quite high – the two friends have reunited, and are starting to make plans to reverse their poor fortune.

Trend – upwards.

* Inigo challenges Count Rugen

Starting emotional tone: A bit higher than normal. Our heroes have found their way into the castle, and who’s the first serious line of defense? Why, the man who Inigo has been searching out for years, along with three extra guards.

Ending emotional tone: Crashing down to the depths. Rugen has tricked Inigo into a nasty trap and put him at a serious disadvantage.

Exercise 5.3: For the same four scenes, look into the conflict. Who or what are on both sides of the conflict? Who wins?

* Inigo tells the story of the six-fingered man

The conflict here is fairly vague and distant, but still compelling – Inigo versus the six fingered man, both in his past, and in his ongoing search for a person who doesn’t particularly want to be found.

Conflict isn’t resolved in this scene either way.

* Vizzini loses his battle of wits

A very intense and immediate conflict between Vizzini and the man in black. Man in black wins.

* Fezzik rediscovers Inigo

We have a direct and obvious conflict of Inigo versus the Brute squad, with Fezzik changing sides, loyal to the Brute Squad until he realizes that Inigo is one of the thieves, and then turning against his colleagues. More abstractly, Inigo is also in conflict with his own demons, such as despair and alcohol, which Fezzik helps him to fight off. Fezzik/Inigo win on both levels.

* Inigo challenges Count Rugen

Inigo versus Rugen again, this time up close and very personal. The edge to Count Rugen, in this scene, but the duel isn’t over yet.

One Response to Blog the cat, Chapter Five – the Board.

  1. Donna Hole says:

    Sounds like you’re getting a lot out of these exercises.

    I’ve heard of the storyboard plotting method. It doesn’t work for me right now because I don’t plot much. As I’m writing on my fantasy quest (hopefully I’ll get back to that soon) I’ll need a lot of plotting though. That may be what has me stalled now – procrastinating the plotting sessions 🙂

    Good luck with your own board.



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