The Save the Cat! Five Point Finale [with Examples]
Imagine you’re reading a great adventure story. The hero has spent 80% of the story fighting against an evil regime that’s oppressed his village, scattered his friends and family, imprisoned the person he loves, and even kidnapped his dog! Just when everything seems lost for our hero, he realizes what he has to do–he’s got to kill the king to bring an end to the regime! Now, imagine you turn the page and read, “so he went to the castle, killed the king with no trouble at all, and lived happily ever after. The end.”
No one wants to read that kind of ending. It’s too easy! There’s no conflict, no struggle, nothing for our hero to overcome. It’s totally unsatisfying. That’s where the Five-Point Finale comes in.
The Five-Point Finale is a blueprint for breaking down the Finale beat (the last 20% of your novel) into a satisfying ending that feels earned. It is an integral part of the Save the Cat! Beat Sheet which helps writers structure their stories in an engaging way.
This blueprint applies to every genre, not just big action thrillers or mysteries. Because all finales have one thing in common: A Goal.
In the Break Into 3 beat of the Save the Cat! beat sheet, your hero has some sort of realization about what they need to do to fix things or accomplish what they need to accomplish. Whether it’s to win back their sweetheart, throw the perfect party, or storm the castle and kill the king, your hero knows what they need to do. And the Five-Point Finale gives some structure for how they can get it done in a way that feels satisfying, earned and exciting for the reader.
So without further ado, let’s look at the five steps for creating a perfectly satisfying conclusion to your story. (And don’t worry, examples are coming below!)
Point 1: Gathering the Team
This is the preparation section of the finale. Before your hero can “storm a castle” (i.e. before your hero can set off to accomplish their goal), they need to prepare. So, this is the section where you’ll see heroes assembling troops, getting their team together, or partnering up with someone. They might also be gathering tools, getting money from the bank that they’ll need, securing weapons, or laying out a route. This section is all about the preparation, so we see the plan for “storming the castle” and how the hero is gearing up for it, which helps the reader get excited about how it will unfold. This section can also include the hero having to make amends and repair bridges that were burned in the All is Lost or in the Bad Guys Close In beats. That could mean the hero has to actually go apologize to their best friend so the best friend can help them with whatever they need to do. And all that preparation leads to…
Point 2: Executing the Plan
This is where the hero actually puts the plan into action. Our hero started the Break Into 3 with a plan or an idea for a plan, and now they’re going to make their first attempt to “storm that castle” (i.e. achieve the goal, whatever that may be). It might seem easy at first. Everything might seem peachy-keen at first. The hero might even be saying, “This is a cinch! I’ve soooo got this.” But, of course, we know that can’t be true. If everything goes right on the first attempt it doesn’t feel earned. It’s too easy with no conflict involved, which is why you have…
Point 3: The High Tower Surprise
So, in a twist on the classic story, let’s say you have a warrior princess storming the castle to save the prince, who’s locked in a high tower. She thinks that’s her plan, so she gathers her supplies (point 1), her weapons, her sidekick, and she goes to the castle (point 2), she climbs up the side wall of the high tower only to find…surprise! Her plan is foiled! The prince isn’t in the tower, and she’s been led into a trap!
The High Tower Surprise is basically a moment of conflict that stops the plan in its tracks. It’s an unexpected roadblock. But what we also notice as we study Five-Point Finales is the High Tower Surprise is basically just another Catalyst. It’s another thing that is happening to the hero that is forcing them to rethink their plan and change in a new way or try something different, which is what any good Catalyst does. So, our hero has hit another roadblock and now needs to…
Point 4: Dig Deep Down
This is the ultimate test of the hero’s faith. It’s not necessarily faith in a religious sense, of course (although it could be if that’s the genre you’re writing in.) This could be a faith in themselves, a faith in the theme they have to learn, or a faith in their ability to solve this problem. This is when the hero really digs deep down and finds the answer buried within themselves. The first plan failed when they hit the High Tower Surprise. It’s not going to work out the way they’d planned, so now the hero has to go inward and figure out what it is they have to do, what changes they need to make within themselves, or what it is they need to prove in order to make this work. We could also call this the “touched by the divine” moment. It’s the moment in a story where the hero really finds something within themselves that leads to the ultimate solution to their problem.
If you look at the High Tower surprise as another Catalyst, then you can think of the Dig Deep Down as another Debate. Story is all about action and reaction. External plot points leading to internal reflections and revelations. The High Tower Surprise is the action, the roadblock, and the Dig Deep Down is the reaction that the hero has to have to finally find the answer and prove that they’ve learned that theme. And when they do, it’s time for the…
Point 5: Execution of the New Plan
This is when the hero realizes what they have to do to really solve their problem, achieve their goal, and get around that High Tower Surprise that’s standing in the way of it. This is the second attempt (or third, fourth, or fifth attempt depending on how long your Execution of the Plan is), but this is the one that ends in victory. Or, if you’re writing a book that doesn’t end in victory, it comes with what I call a “purposeful failure”. In other words, a failure that says something about the story or about the hero. If we choose to have a non-happy ending or a non-traditional happy ending, it shouldn’t just be for the sake of bucking a trend. A character’s failure should say something about the world, the story, the hero, or the theme. In most cases, though, this section will end in victory for the hero. Yay!
So, now you know what the five points are, but what do they look like in action? Here are a few examples:
Break Into Three: William realizes that he really does love Anna despite her fame and wants to be with her, despite the fear of how it will upturn his life
What is the “Castle” (Goal)? To Get the girl
Gathering the Team: William realizes he’s made a mistake in letting Anna walk out of his life, so he turns to his friends and they all pile in the car and go to the hotel where they think she’s staying
Executing the Plan: After some bickering over how to get to the hotel, they arrive and William tries different aliases at the front desk to see if Anna is there. She’s not, but the clerk helps him out and tells him where to go next. In this scene, one friend “sacrifices” himself by getting out of the car to stop traffic so the others can leave.
High Tower Surprise: When they arrive at the hotel Anna is doing a press conference and it’s packed with people! There’s no way he’ll be able to talk to her alone before she gets on a plane to go back to the US.
Dig Deep Down: William realizes he needs to prove that he learned his theme, that he doesn’t care about the fame and notoriety, he just loves Anna and wants to be with her. He raises his hand in front of the whole press corp and declares his love.
Execution of the New Plan: William continues his speech and Anna says yes. They get married and live happily ever after. But it wasn’t easy!
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Break Into Three: The new rule–that two tributes from the same district can both win–is announced, and Katniss calls out Peeta’s name
What is the “Castle” (Goal)? To win the Games
Gathering the Team: Katniss first has to find Peeta, who is injured and hiding
Executing the Plan: She finds Peeta and nurses him back to health, and together they defeat the other tributes. But…
High Tower Surprise: Major roadblock! The capital announces another rule change, and now only one tribute can win. If Katniss wants to reach her goal, she’ll have to kill Peeta to do it.
Dig Deep Down: Katniss realizes she does not want to be a pawn in this game anymore, and she’s willing to sacrifice herself, which goes completely against her original goal, to survive. She and Peeta decide to eat poisonous berries and both die, which would leave the game without a winner.
Execution of the New Plan: The capital can’t allow that to happen, so they change the rules again and both Katniss and Peeta are declared winners. They go home victorious.
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
Break Into Three: Opal decides to throw a party to cure everyone’s loneliness. Her theme is all about overcoming her own loneliness, and she realizes that a lot of people are lonely and she needs to bring them together.
What is the “Castle” (Goal)? To throw a party
Gathering the Team: Opal sends invitations, makes food, and preps for the party
Executing the Plan: The party begins, and everything seems to be going well. People like the food, and everybody is making friends, just like Opal wanted
High Tower Surprise: But, of course, things can’t be so easy! There’s a thunderstorm, and everyone realizes Winn-Dixie, who we learned earlier is afraid of storms, is missing. Opal is terrified her dog has run away and this definitely ruins the mood of the party
Dig Deep Down: Opal and her father go out looking for Winn-Dixie, and this is where Opal finally confronts her father about her mother. Opal accuses her dad of always giving up, on her mother, and on Winn-Dixie. This is the first time they’ve ever had this confrontation, which makes Opal realize that what she needs is not her mother, but to bond with her father who is still there for her. She digs deep down and finally comes to terms with the fact that sometimes people leave and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Execution of the New Plan: Opal and her father return home and find that Winn-Dixie has been there all along. 🙂
And that’s the Five-Point finale! Whether you have an action-packed thriller with a race-against-the-clock finale or a quieter story with more emotional beats, these five steps are a sure way to make your ending feel earned and leave your readers satisfied.
Until next time, happy writing! Filed under: Tips for Writers Writing Mastery Tagged with: five-point finale save the cat save the cat beat sheet save the cat writes a novel STC Starter Kit (LMAP) writing mastery writing productivity writing tips