Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Save the Cat series of books is aimed primarily at screenwriters, but in this case Jessica Brody has reworked the formula for novel writing.
The book, as befits one concerned about plot, is well-structured, with sections designed for easy reference after the initial read-through. At its core, Brody puts forward that there are 10 core plots that are used in pretty much all successful stories (note that this success is oriented toward readers more than critics, hence the inclusion of novels that have received what some might call unkind reviews, such as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.
In the first chapter Brody describes how we are wired to respond to certain types of stories and covers the usual concerns over “How can I be daring and original if I’m following a strict plot outline?” by saying nothing is really original, but all authors have their own voices and style that separate them from other writers.
The next ten chapters are devoted to an explanation of the specific plot type, covering three essential requirements for each, followed by a “beat sheet” (beats are a big thing in the Save the Cat world) for a specific novel, explaining how it conforms to the particular plot type in question. This is followed by an even more precise summary of the beat sheet, handy for quick reference.
The final chapter is a general set of common questions Brody has addressed in related workshops, along with answers, ranging from the basics of “Where do I start?” to handling multiple narratives. Brody also provides templates on a website that serve as virtual corkboards for plotting (for those who don’t want to use actual corkboards). In all, the information is detailed, but presented in a light, informal style that will be easily accessible to young or new writers, as well as those who have yet to plot their way out of the proverbial wet paper bag.
You can get an idea of the tone of the book by observing some of the plot types discussed:
- Dude with a Problem
- Buddy Love
- Monster in the House
All of this may sound very rigid–and it is. Brody does allow that some bending of the rules may be allowed, but that overall these plots, their associated acts, scenes, and overall beats, must be followed to achieve the effect they are meant to have on that primitive part of our brain that responds so well to structured tales.
If you believe in the power of plotting, this is an excellent primer on how to write a novel using any of the ten specific plots discussed. As Brody mentions, it also works well for those trying to fix a work in progress.
For new writers or those who have a tendency to send their initially sound novels upon the rocky shoals of “I don’t know what happens next”, this is recommended.
P.S. “Save the cat” is a reference to how an unlikable main character should do something to show they have a good side or some merit, such as…saving a cat.
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