Hey all, Sam here.
Every time I pick up a writing craft book, I wonder what I’m going to learn, if I’m going to relate to how the subject matter is presented, and if the book is going to one that I connect with and read quickly or if it’s going to be a slog.
If I take myself back to the couple of years where I was studying education in college, there are a variety of different learning methodologies and people will learn things in different ways. While I find that I can pick up quite a bit of information from reading about it, I’m also pretty good with learning by listening to lectures, and from actually doing things. Basically I’m a visual learner, an audio learner, and a hands-on learner. I actually remember taking tests on what kind of learner you are, and finding it fun that I was pretty much even on all three, and in tests to determine if I’m right brained or left brained, again I was an even split. So, gotta love being a jack of all trades.
When David and I attend Gen Con each year, I focus a lot of my attention on the Gen Con Writers Symposium, where I attend a number of panels hosted by a number of authors and editors. Some of the panels are immensely useful with a lot of fascinating info, some of the panels just motivate me to create and to write, and some of the panels just don’t end up being for me. I’m starting to get to the point where I can accept that not everything is for me (like that last book for Weekend Writer).
Thankfully, after just one chapter, I can say that I have a good feeling about this book. So let’s get started with this bonus Weekend Writer deep dive.
SAVE THE CAT!® by Blake Snyder is a popular screenwriting book series and storytelling methodology used by screenwriters, directors, and studio execs across Hollywood. Now, for the first time ever, bestselling author and writing teacher, Jessica Brody, takes the beloved Save the Cat! plotting principals and applies them to the craft of novel writing in this exciting new “workshop style” guide, featuring over 20 full beat sheets from popular novels throughout time.
Whether you’re writing your first novel or your seventeenth, Save the Cat! breaks down plot in an easy-to-follow, step-by-step method so you can write stories that resonate! This book can help you with any of the following:
Outlining a new novel
Revising an existing novel
Breaking out of the dreaded “writer’s block”
Fixing a “broken” novel
Reviewing a completed novel
Fleshing out/test driving a new idea to see if it “has legs”
Implementing feedback from agents and/or editors
Helping give constructive feedback to other writers
But above all else, SAVE THE CAT! WRITES A NOVEL will help you better understand the fundamentals and mechanics of plot, character transformation, and what makes a story work!
In the introduction Jessica Brody talks about how this all started, back when she was struggling to become a novelist, and had a bunch of rejection letters that all basically said “great writing. no story.” Then she was handed a copy of Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder, and a friend of hers said that it was a popular book for screenwriting but would probably work for novels as well.
After reading the book numerous times and making a few tweaks, Brody discovered that it could be perfectly applied to novels. And in the decade since, she has sold and published a number of books to various major publishers and in many different countries. Brody has plotted out so many books, and has taught thousands of other writers at workshops and such…and now all that information has been put into this book.
Because essentially the Save the Cat! Beat Sheet that Blake designed is not about movies. It’s about story. And regardless of whether you’re writing screenplays, novels, short stories, memoirs, or stage plays, whether you’re writing comedy, drama, sci-fi, fantasy, or horror, whether you fancy yourself a literary writer or a commercial writer, one thing is nonnegotiable: You need a good story.
And I’m going to help you get there.
Because of all of the workshops, and seeing the various struggles of writers over the years, Brody believes that she has structured all of the information here in the most effective way possible, and there are even checklists and exercises to accompany each chapter. Plus, this is written so that you can either tackle the book solo, or work through it with a critique group. I don’t exactly have a critique group…so I guess talking about everything online is as close as I’m going to get.
Even if you picked this up for a specific part of your plot, like the middle, Brody recommends reading through the chapters of this book in order.
Because despite what you might think, this book is about so much more than just plot. The word “plot” on its own is pretty useless. It’s just a series of events that happen in a story. But structure is the order in which those events happen and, maybe even more importantly, the timing of when they happen. Then you add in a character who needs to change and does change by the end, and presto! You’ve got a story worth telling.
Plot, structure, and character transformation.
Or what I like to call the “Holy Trinity of Story.”
The introduction also discusses both plotters and pantsers, but Brody said something that I really loved. “I’ve learned, through working with thousands of authors over the years, that the creative process is a very mysterious thing and everyone is different. (Yes, you are all unique, fragile, storytelling snowflakes.) So, no, I’m not here to change your process. I’m here to enhance your process.”
Yes, with what is said in the introduction, it does seem like this book could enhance the way that both plotters and pantsers handle their writing processes, and I’m honestly hoping that it helps me, who is more of a pantser/percolater (aka I like to internally process and think about what I’m doing for a while before I put the words on paper).
And I don’t know, but even this introduction has me feeling pretty hopeful that this book is going to be useful and written less like an academic lecture and more like a couple of friends hanging out at a coffee shop. It made me very excited to jump into the first chapter…so let’s go ahead and do that.
Chapter One: Why Do We Care? Creating the Story-Worthy Hero
The relationship between character and plot is an essential one. It’s why we start the Save the Cat! methodology here, with the main character, who from here on out I will be referring to as the hero of your story. Because doesn’t that just sound better? A hero is proactive and important and worthy of having an entire novel revolve around them. In the world of Save the Cat!, we write about memorable characters who do memorable stuff. But most of all, we create heroes (male and female!) who are destined to be the center of a plot.
Oh, I will also say that I enjoy that the beginning of the chapter gives a spoiler tag for a few of the books that Brody will talk about in the chapter…you know, so if it’s a book you are trying to avoid being spoiled on then you can set the book aside for another time.
So right now the focus is on figuring out who the hero of your story is, and making sure you’ve created a hero worthy of having a novel written about them, a hero who is interesting and memorable and relatable, a hero that people will want to read about.
How do you do that? Well a hero needs: 1) a problem or flaw that needs fixing, 2) a want or goal that the hero is pursuing, and 3) a need or life lesson to be learned.
Because readers don’t want a perfect hero. People aren’t perfect, even if they pretend to be. Brody gives us a tip for writing flawed heroes, and that is: don’t let the problem stay contained to just one area of your hero’s life. Basically the problems should spread and infect more of their life and their world and their relationships. If the flaws stay contained then they don’t have the motivation to fight and change it, to be better.
So what does your hero want in life? And sorry, “to be happy” is not a good answer. It is not specific enough and it is not tangible. Since happiness is different for different people, the reader won’t necessarily recognize when the hero gets what they want. So the hero needs something concrete that they think will make them happy, something like a new house, or a championship trophy, or magical powers, or whatever makes sense for your story and your hero.
And those wants or goals can change as the story goes on. Whatever the wants are, they are what will keep the plot moving. Without some goal to work towards then the hero is just waiting around for things to happen and that is boring. It should also be noted that not every character gets what they want, or they are wrong and it is something else entirely that will actually satisfy their needs. But people predictably will go for whatever is easier, whatever is quicker.
Now I realize I’m coming dangerously close to sounding like a self-help book here, but the truth is, plotting a compelling and engaging novel and crafting a story-worthy hero is a lot like playing psychologist. It’s your job to not only diagnose the real problem in your hero’s life, but cure it as well.
This was amusing to me, because when writing it is easy to feel like you are playing psychologist. You have to create characters with problems and then diagnose those problems either with the character’s internal reflection or through another character’s advice or warnings, and then you have to work towards correcting, curing, healing, or managing those problems.
The hero’s want or goal is the main story, or the A Story, but that isn’t the only story. There’s also the internal story, or the B Story, which is linked to what the hero needs to learn to change their life. It should be noted that the internal story is what the novel is really about, even when it is described as being about the want/goal. The internal story should have something to do with a life lesson, and life lessons are universal.
Brody, thankfully, gives us a list of ten universal lessons, and these are ones that pretty much any story can be boiled down to if you really want to strip it down to the most basic ideal.
- Forgiveness: of self or of others
- Love: includes self-love, family love, romantic love
- Acceptance: of self, of circumstances, of reality
- Faith: in oneself, in others, in the world, in God
- Fear: overcoming it, conquering it, finding courage
- Trust: in oneself, in others, in the unknown
- Survival: including the will to live
- Selflessness: including sacrifice, altruism, heroism, and overcoming greed
- Responsibility: including duty, standing up for a cause, accepting one’s destiny
- Redemption: including atonement, accepting blame, remose, and salvation
Writing a hero who goes through a change along their journey is the secret sauce of writing novels. Brody says that if you do that then you can write novels that people talk about, novels that end up on bestseller lists, novels that get turned into movies, novels that resonate with readers. And when you can resonate with a reader, that’s when you become a true storyteller.
So who is your hero? Because the answer may not be who you think it is.
The hero is your guide to the fictional world and they are who the reader will use to track the progress of the story.
And Brody says that even if you are writing a novel with multiple protagonists, you should still narrow your thinking down to one true hero. While all of them should have complete arcs and compelling stories, which one of them has the most change to make and the most to gain. Most of the time the hero that is your true hero in the multitude of heroes for the story will be the one who is the first the reader encounters.
Pages 20 and 21 include exercise questions that help you figure out who your hero is and what motivates them, as well as a checklist to make sure that your hero can cross off everything that was discussed in this chapter.
I read this chapter really quickly and I was so happy to dive into this book. Since I didn’t get any votes on my poll for which book to cover for Weekend Writer, and because I couldn’t decide on my own…David actually chose this book. I’m really glad he picked this one, because I’m really enjoying it so far, and I think I will be able to pull out a whole bunch of useful tips and tricks through this process.
Well, that is all from me for today. Thank you so much for stopping by, and I’ll be back soon with more geeky content.
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