They’re Wrong and We’re Right

Friends, I must bring up something unpleasant.

The internetz have been ablaze with this story. You will now click through, read, and come back after.

Someone has devised a screenwriting guide that resembles the Enneagram! Unwittingly, I must add. From the referenced story you can click through to the “Beat Sheet” that details the formula. Go read and come back.

I’m sure you noticed right away that this Beat Sheet is the Enneagram plus extra stuff. Let’s first address simple math and compare the two systems:


The Opening Image Beat and the Set-Up Beat coordinate with our 1: Establish the world.


Their Catalyst Beat and Debate Beat are usually encompassed by our 2: the Trouble. The Theme Is Stated Beat can fall within our 1 or 2, depending on its nature.


Break Into Act II Beat resembles our 3. A key difference raises its head here. In the Beat Sheet this moment is not given the weight that the Enneagram gives it. As you know if you read the article, this Beat Sheet formula has become boringly formulaic in Hollywood. I would suggest to you that this discrepancy between our 3 and their equivalent is exactly why the word “boring” is in play.


B-Story Beat and Fun And Games Beat fall here. You’ll notice a reference to “lighter tone”, which is exactly what the best 4s use.


Midpoint Beat says it all. We are identical.


Bad Guys Close In Beat and All Is Lost Beat represent our typical 5 stuff. However, the 5 is not always about despair. The team working together can be an important element of the 5 and happens very frequently.


Break Into Act III Beat is labeled to mirror our 3. An Enneagram can work in tandem with a Three Act structure; a complex story actually requires the two systems. However, the 3/6 and Act II/Act III break rarely line up. This is a major point of differentiation between our formulas.


Dark Night Of The Soul Beat is out of place. Beat Sheet has it happening earlier, before our 6. The Enneagram would strongly object to this formula. The decision moment of the 7 can only happen after the revelation of the 6.


Finale Beat. It’s really, really hard to mess up the climax under anyone’s formula.


Final Image Beat is not a hard and fast rule under our system, although sometimes the 9 will show the 1 after the Enneagram process has spiraled upward. I don’t like the word “mirror”. Progress can hint; it doesn’t need to bludgeon.

And there you have the description of every movie made today, at least according to the original article. I am not interested in debating that claim; I think the statement is accurate. It would be just like a corporate mentality to take a creative tool and turn it into a straitjacket.  I tip my hat to the late Blake Snyder and his Beat Sheet. From my view, he’s tapped into the truth and come back very close but no cigar.

My formula is better than his formula. Or, to say it more properly: Snyder developed a formula that is mostly true, but we have a system that is true for screenwriting as well as all other processes, creative or not.

The original article disputes the need for any formula at all. Now, that’s an interesting argument. Snyder (and screenwriters and producers, etc.) come at the problem from the outside in. Find a formula and stick the creative pegs in the holes. The article is rightfully disdainful of this act. The Enneagram, though, is an inside out. Create, and then lay the process on top to see how the creativity should be shaped.

Perhaps these are insignificant distinctions to you. If you suspect that the Enneagram could be used as an outside-in formula, you are right. The problems with Hollywood reach far beyond an overused Beat Sheet template, and any system that seems to guarantee a success will be embraced. However, I would argue that the Snyder template lends itself to this abuse. Its beats are too specific, too easy to “Mad Lib”. The Enneagram encourages creativity because the 3 and 6 are wide open spaces. Good luck grabbing a peg that fits in that hole! Only an “aha!” moment can fill that void.

The article’s author also sneers at the Snyder formula as a writing tool. He says he used it to shape his article, as if this is a bad thing. I use the Enneagram to shape my nonfiction writing as well as my fiction. Process is true no matter what. The article was quite readable; I’m not sure what this person’s writing looks like without a formula. He should be think twice about why his article has been so successful and widely read. Maybe a formula isn’t such a bad thing when it’s used cogently? I think part of the complaint is that art shouldn’t be constrained; only something freely created can be Art.

That’s the kind of thinking that got us into this mess in the first place. The author has confused structure with stricture.

Hollywood is a mess, and I don’t know if the Enneagram, used perfectly by everyone involved, could save the day. Personally, I think gaming is the future of entertainment and that Hollywood furthers its demise every day it refuses to embrace the gaming culture.

But, hey, that’s just my two cents.

In the meantime I wish Hollywood would learn to mitigate its risk by using the Enneagram rather than counting on one man’s formula. The article is certainly right when it points to the poor Beat Sheet as carrying way too much weight for its original purpose.

1 Comment

  1. Very fun read — I clicked through a few links too many and became enraptured by the Jurassic Park Beat Sheet — although this information is a tad depressing. Not only for Hollywood filmmaking, but for the status of the Enneagram.

    I’ve heard of “Save the Cat” before — you might remember I once asked you guys for a copy — but I had no idea it concerned an Enneagram-like structure for screenwriting. I’m not sure how I feel. Excited and nervous, I guess.

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