Make writing your novel easier with “Save the Cat”

Which way to Act Three?

Which way to Act Three?

You know that terrible moment when someone asks you what your book is about?  “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder can help you answer that question successfully without seeing the person in front of you get the dreaded “eyes glazing over” look.  This fun-to-read book is an all-around primer into the world of pitching, clarifying themes like “What is it about?”, and enhancing your characters and actions, even though it is aimed at screenwriters.  Snyder’s experience selling scripts in Hollywood allows a glimpse into how producers and possibly agents evaluate projects.  Snyder has thought and thought about what goes into a good movie and his enthusiasm for the subject shines through the text.  It is not a big book but it moves quickly and is supremely entertaining.

Plotting is hard for me to grasp.  While my imagination runs free with ideas, I still like to have a story shape to aim for.  Something to help deliver what I consider a satisfying read.  But I’m frustrated by concepts like Approach to the Dark Cave and Inciting Incident.   I’ve read the “Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogler, “The 90-day Novel” by Alan Watt and “Screenplay” by Syd Field.  Each of these has been helpful.  What makes “Save the Cat” so useful is the clear way Blake Snyder cuts through to the essence of many puzzling writing concepts.

As soon as I got to the part in “Save the Cat” about how the beats/story events happen in a screenplay, I was obsessed with transferring the idea to a novel’s length.  Snyder’s beat sheet has the beats happen by page number, but novels are gauged by word count.   I chose a 70,000 word novel length. I’m not a genius in math, but after a consultation with one, I think I’ve accurately transferred pages on a screenplay to word count on a novel.

I'm hoping my plot points will line up this neatly.

I’m hoping my plot points will line up this neatly.

Here is where you can find Blake Snyder’s beat sheet.  Mine breaks down like this….For a 70,000 word novel, the Introduction is at 0-7636 words.  Around 7636 words, a Catalyst or you could call it the Inciting Incident occurs.  There is a Debate section where the character considers their Call to Adventure from 7636 through 15909.  Then you break into Act Two at 15909.

Blake Snyder introduces a new concept to me, the B story.  B story is secondary storyline or romantic storyline that occurs in conjunction with what he calls the Fun and Games section leading up to the Midpoint.  The B story is supposed to lighten up the transition into the 2nd Act.  You’ll find the Midpoint at 35,000 words.  The next section is called the Bad Guys and it concludes at 47,727 where All is Lost.  From 47,727 to  54,090 where Act Three commences, is called the Dark Night.  The third act/finale runs until 70,000 words.

Sounds like a lot of details, doesn’t it?  But if you love movies/novels and analysing them, then reading about these plot points and their functions is fun.  You just have to be careful not to forget the idea that bubbled into your head in the first place.  A beat sheet is there to engage you when you start to get lost in your idea.  But it shouldn’t be there to strangle the life out of it.

As I mentioned, “Save the Cat” isn’t just plotting.   The title, “Save the Cat”, refers to a clever device I first read about in Donald Maass’ book called “Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook”.  A “Save the Cat” scene is good way to establish a character early on as a good guy, by having the hero doing something (like saving a cat) that shows they have a heart, even if they are a tough guy on the outside.  Snyder has many more tricks and tips on how to enhance or fix a challenging spot in the story.

Sometimes it is nice to get a dose of the basics, and “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder is a fun way to refresh your view of your project.  I found this book after reading about it on Alyson Noel’s web site.  She calls the Beat Sheet “15 scenes that keep the story moving forward.” The concepts must have worked for her, as her “Immortals” series is doing great.

-Janis

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About writeinseattle

Two Seattle writers examining the writer's life.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Janis Wildy about writing, Janis Wildy on Writing, On Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Make writing your novel easier with “Save the Cat”

  1. Wmm says:

    I am off to find this! Have you read martha Alderson’s The Plot Whisperer? Similar concepts I think, only she uses tithe term energetic markers. It is excellent! Anything that can help me in my revision is much appreciated!

  2. Thanks for the heads up about the Plot Whisperer. I’m still using Save the Cat and find it so helpful to guide my way!

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