Writing a novel is harder than most people think. Writing one that your friends and family will like is even harder. Writing one that strangers will bother to review is so tough that most people would never try. If you’ve done it or are in the midst of trying, you understand the challenge of turning ideas into plot and plot into a story. Fortunately, Jessica Brody wrote Save the Cat! Writes a Novel. Unlike she claims, it isn’t the last book you’ll need on the subject, but I felt that it provided a helpful framework among the many.
At the heart of Save the Cat! lies a method that breaks down storytelling into key beats and structures. The term "Save the Cat" itself refers to a pivotal moment early in a story where the protagonist performs an act of kindness, endearing themselves to the audience. This book sets out a “typical” pattern that many successful books and movies follow, a roadmap for crafting one type of engaging and emotionally resonant narrative.
Here’s the skinny on the structure STC lays out. If you break down many classic stories into sections, what Brody calls beats, then you’ll follow a storyline that readers expect and enjoy. Here’s a brief overview.
Opening Image: Sets the tone and introduces the protagonist's world.
Theme Stated: Establishes the central theme or message of the story.
Set-Up: Introduces the main characters and their normal lives.
Catalyst: The inciting incident that disrupts the status quo.
Debate: The internal struggle the protagonist faces in responding to the catalyst.
Break into Two: The moment the protagonist commits to the journey, transitioning from the ordinary world to the extraordinary.
B Story: The secondary storyline often involves relationships or personal growth.
Fun and Games: The lighter, more entertaining phase of the story.
Midpoint: A significant turning point that shifts the story in a new direction.
Bad Guys Close In: Escalating challenges and setbacks for the protagonist.
All Is Lost: The lowest point for the protagonist.
Dark Night of the Soul: A moment of introspection and despair.
Break into Three: The protagonist's resurgence and commitment to the final push.
Finale: The climax where the protagonist faces the ultimate challenge.
Final Image: The resolution, showing the impact of the journey on the protagonist's life.
This graphic from Reedsy may come in handy for understanding where the beats go:
There’s a lot more to STC than just the outline, so I highly recommend giving it a read.
The beats give you a flexible framework, and shouldn’t be taken as a set of hard and fast rules. It’s like sprinkling bread crumbs as a loose path through the woods so you don’t get lost on the way to writing “The End.” The method is handy to know and useful to implement, but the story should always be your own. Don’t use it like painting by numbers because that would kill your creativity. As with every writing tool, it is useful to know, and then to figure out when it should be ignored.
One of the best parts of Save The Cat is the resources that Brody and others provide. Here are a few:
Q: Can I use "Save the Cat" for any genre?
A: Yes. The beats are adaptable and can be tailored to suit various genres, from romance to fantasy to mystery.
Q: Do I have to literally save a cat in my novel to make it work?
A: Well, if your story involves a superhero cat that rescues other cats from trees, it might just be the next literary sensation. Otherwise, metaphorical cat-saving works too.
Q: What if my story doesn't neatly fit into the beats?
A: The beats are a guide, not a straitjacket. Throw out the cat if that’s what works for you.
Q: Can I replace the "Save the Cat" moment with "Pet the Dog" for variety?
A: While dogs are adorable, the "Save the Cat" moment has a certain ring to it. However, if your protagonist prefers dogs, go ahead and start a new trend—just don't forget the treats.
Q: Is "Save the Cat" only for planners?
A: Nope. The beats give you a loose framework that can guide your narrative exploration.
Q: Should I follow the beats chronologically?
A: Experiment with their order to see what’s right for you.
Q: Will following "Save the Cat" turn my novel into a purr-fect masterpiece?
A: Absolutely! Your novel will be so flawless that readers might mistake it for a divine feline creation. Prepare for literary acclaim and possibly a catnip sponsorship.
Q: Can my villain save a cat, or is that against the rules?
A: Villains have feelings too. If your antagonist has a soft spot for feline friends, let them indulge in some cat-saving. It's a villainous twist that might just win hearts.
Q: What if my cat is more of a "Chill on the Windowsill" type?
A: Cats have diverse personalities. If your cat prefers a laid-back windowsill vibe over daring rescues, embrace it. Just ensure your protagonist still showcases some heroic flair.
As always, I appreciate your support of self-publishing and indie authors. In the name of putting myself out there, here are a few of my works.