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Weekend Writer: Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: Chapter Three: Not Your Mother’s Genres – Ten Genres to Fit Any Story (Yes, Even Yours) by Jessica Brody

Hey all, Sam here.

It is Mother’s Day here in the US, so if you’re someone who celebrates, then I hope you have a lovely day honoring the mothers in your life. And if you don’t celebrate Mother’s Day, then I hope you are having a very nice Sunday.

Welcome back to another Weekend Writer post. Yes, I realize that this makes three Weekend Writer posts in a row, but honestly I am finding these to be very enjoyable and educational. Yes, the Weekend Writer series is the one that I spend the most time prepping and drafting, but it also feels the most rewarding. It really reminds me of college a bit, having assigned chapters to read and having discussions on the topics discussed in each reading section.

I might have some of these Weekend Writer posts cover discussions that don’t come from a book on writing craft. I attend writer workshop panels at Gen Con and try and take lots of notes. And there are several authors out there who have writing podcasts, or lessons or lectures that are available online. Like Neil Gaiman has a MasterClass series, or Brandon Sanderson has a number of lectures available on his YouTube. I might delve into some of those in future installments, perhaps in between books or something.

Anyway, I hope you all are finding these posts useful as well, and let’s go ahead and dive into Chapter 3. I promise it won’t be as long as the Chapter 2 posts.

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!

Chapter Three: Not Your Mother’s Genres – Ten Genres to Fit Any Story (Yes, Even Yours)

This should come as no surprise: if you want to write a good story, you have to know what good stories are made of. Along the same lines, if you want to write a successful novel, you have to read successful novels. You have to study how they work, what makes them successful, why they resonate with so many people. You have to break them down, peek inside, and study their inner mechanics, the way a medical student would study the inner workings of the human body.

How do the pieces fit together?

Why does this part go there?

How are certain stories similar and how are they different?

In short, the first step to being a successful writer is being a reader.

page 79

This is basically advice I’ve heard many times before. The best writers are also readers. So many say to read from a number of sources and genres. Some actually say to avoid reading within your genre, while others say it is good to know what sells within your genre. But most say that if you want to write, you need to read. I think this can expand out to other story-focused mediums as well. Watch TV and anime and movies. Go see plays and musicals. Play video games (but specifically ones that have a story to them and aren’t purely PvP or something). If it has characters and a plot and dialogue…you can learn about story from them, if you care to pay attention.

And we’re all aware of sorting these stories into genres like fantasy or historical or horror or action or mystery or romance…but this chapter doesn’t look at those genres. Those are categories of tone, so a tone genre. This chapter looks at categories of story itself. So what kind of story are you setting out to tell? What type of transformation does your hero undergo? What central theme or question does your novel set out to tackle?

Brody says that these questions are far more useful while developing our novels, and they are the kind of questions that the Save the Cat! story genres were designed to answer.

The best news…there’s only ten of these genres in total, and each has its own design and formula to it. These are the things that make each of the stories within each genre work.

As human beings, we are hardwired to respond to certain types of storytelling elements. And when they are strung together in the right order, these stories make our hearts sing, our souls cry out, our inner humanity vibrate like a tuning fork. If we study the elements of each story genre, and the patterns that make those elements successful, we can easily see why the novels in each genre are successful. And why these elements and patterns appear over and over again, in novels as old as The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer and as new as Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (which, by the way, are in the same story genre).

page 80-81

Chapter Three is pretty much an introduction chapter, giving us an idea of what we’re going to delve into next within this book. This chapter introduces the idea of these story genres, and lists them out very simply for us. But it is Chapter 4-Chapter 13 that breaks down one Save the Cat! story genre per chapter.

But here’s the quick overview (found on pages 81-82):

Whydunit – a mystery must be solved by the hero during which something shocking is revealed about the dark side of human nature.

Rites of Passage – a hero must endure pain and torment brought about by life’s common challenges.

Institutionalized – a hero enters or is already entrenched inside a certain group, and must make a choice to join, escape, or destroy it.

Superhero – an extraordinary hero finds themselves in an ordinary world and must come to terms with being special or destined for greatness

Dude with a Problem – an innocent ordinary hero suddenly finds themselves in the midst of extraordinary circumstances and must rise to the challenge

Fool Triumphant – an underestimated underdog hero is pitted against some kind of “establishment” and proves a hidden worth to society.

Buddy Love – a hero is transformed by meeting someone else, including (but not limited to) love stories, friendship stories, and pet stories.

Out of the Bottle – an ordinary hero is temporarily “touched by magic,” usually involving a wish fulfilled or a curse bestowed, and the hero learns an important lesson about appreciating and making the most of “reality.”

Golden Fleece – a hero (or group) goes on a “road trip” of some type, in search of one thing and winds up discovering something else–themselves.

Monster in the House – a hero (or group) must overcome some kind of monster, in some kind of enclosed setting, and someone is usually responsible for bringing the monster into being.

Have you ever heard someone say there’s no such thing as an original story? Well, as you’ll see throughout the next ten chapters, it’s true. Original is not an achievable goal in novel-writing. So just throw that word out the window right now.

What is achievable is fresh.

page 82

Basically, what is your personal spin on the story that is something that has been told over and over again. When I look at romances, I see so many stories with the ordinary girl and the super rich kind-of-a-jerk boss man, and how there’s just one person who can break through his shell…the ordinary girl. And yet, as common as those stories are, they still have their own unique spark. Sure the basics are pretty much the same, but there is something about the story, whether that is the portrayal of the couple, or the side characters, or the writing, that stands out as its own thing, that feels fresh and different.

Brody says that what readers want is basically the same thing, but a little different. We want something we know we’ll like, but told in a way that makes it feel different.

Brody then goes on to compare writing a novel to baking a cake. When baking a cake, you know you’ll need butter, eggs, flour, and sugar (most of the time—there are some interesting recipes from wartime history that don’t use these things because of rationing and all that), and these elements are put together in the same way…but if you add an extra dash of flavoring (like vanilla or chocolate or spice or whatever) and then decorate it differently, then sure it’s a cake like all the other cakes out there, but it doesn’t taste the same as all the other cakes out there. It’s fresh.

Studying your story genre can help you not only structure your own story but also break free from writing and plotting blockages.

page 83

When you’re stuck on a certain point in your story, you can pull out these genre breakdowns and then find stories (whether that is a book or a movie) and start studying them. By seeing how other people handle the elements that are causing you to stumble, you can be inspired with ideas on how to handle the issue yourself.

Plus, knowing what your story is about, it’s theme and genre and arc, can help with pitching your novel to agents, editors, publishers, and producers. You’ll want to be able to sum up your story quickly, and giving comps is an effective way to do that.

But also be aware that novels are complex things, and it is possible for a story to exhibit and inhabit a couple of these genres. We can sit around and debate which one the story best fits in all day, but in the end, we need to realize that genres are simply there to help us focus our story and aid us in including the proper story elements.

And when you get around to pitching, you’ll want to lead with the genre that your story is most like, even when it might technically fit in a few different areas. Much like the fact that you might have multiple protagonists or POV characters, but you’ll need to figure out which one is your main focus, your hero, you might have your story fit several genres and you’ll need to sort out which one is the primary identifier for your story.

Basically find the genre that feels the most right to you and keep that one at the front of your mind while you’re writing, even knowing that it can and possibly will change through the writing process. You just need to figure out what genres are going to make your story work.

As Brody says, that is why you picked up this book, right?

Yes, I very much did pick this book up so I could learn from it and figure out how to make my writing and creating skills even better…and after just a few chapters, I am happy to say that this book is definitely giving me things to think about, and it is presenting the information in a way that makes it very easy to read. I love that this feels like I’m just hanging out with some writer friends and talking about the craft of writing.

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. Manga Monday is tomorrow!


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