Save the Cat! Writes a Novel (Unless otherwise noted, links are affiliate links. ?As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you. If you use these links, thank you for your support!?)
The novelist version of the famous screenwriting classic, Save the Cat, Save the Cat Writes a Novel is the focused how-to guide for novelists. Brody introduces all of the ingredients tha make up a stellar novel, as well as the 10 genres that encapsulate the majority of all stories.
Brody is thorough and detailed and each Genre Chapter which discusses the features of the 10 story genres includes a written out Beat Sheet featuring famous stories that fit the genre. This is a great learning tool for aspiring fiction writers.
The Most Important Lessons I Learned From This Book
- The Save the Cat! beat sheet (see Ch. 2)
- There are only a handful of genres of fiction that exist. They are: Whydunit, Superhero, Dude with a Problem, Buddy Love, Institutionalized, Fool Triumphant, Out of the Bottle, Monster in the House, Golden Fleece.
Blake Snyder first wrote Save the Cat! in 2005 for screenwriters. Since then, his 15-beat template (Beat Sheet) has caught on everywhere. It works for novels too.
A Screenwriting Guide for Novelists?
In today?s interconnected world, novelists are competing with screenwriters.
We need to write well paced novels with visual elements, compelling character growth, airtight structure.
It?s not about PLOT, but STRUCTURE: the order in which events happen, and the timing of when. This isn?t about plotting vs pantsing. This book will help both types of writers.
We all have to do the plotting work somewhere, somehow.
Writers are afraid to become formulaic, but nearly all popular novels throughout time fit this pattern. It works.
In this book you will learn about the hero, the beats, the genres (genres are broken down by character transformation type and/or central theme), the pitch.
What About the Cat?
The original was called Save the Cat to avoid common storytelling pitfalls. Saving the Cat is how an unlikable main character (MC) does something that immediately makes readers root for them. Like saving a cat.
Chapter 1 Why Do We Care?
Creating the Story-Worthy Hero
Great stories need flaws, at least one major problem, but better if there are many. ?Because readers don?t like reading about perfect heroes. If your hero?s life isn?t flawed, what?s the point of the novel? And decide how that flaw got there.
And don?t let the problem stay contained to one area of life. What does your hero think will fix those problems?
Give your hero a goal to proactively pursue. Readers read because they want to know if your hero will get what he wants. Don?t let him get it easily. Wants drive the novel, whether they change or stay the same.
But besides wants, characters have NEEDS. Heroes are often wrong about what will lead to their happiness. What they want is only half the story. They need a NEED too. That?s the soul of the novel. People don?t always get what they want. But do they get what they need?
As in real life, fictional quick-fixes don?t last long.
The B Story: the internal story.
Don?t think about how many pages you have to write. Break it down. Your beat sheet will change as you go.
Chapter 2 The Save the Cat! Beat Sheet
aka The End of All Your Plotting Problems
You have to break a road trip into smaller chunks.
You do this in writing by creating a beat sheet. The beats will change along the way as you write and learn more about your story, but then you can pause and take a moment to ?rebeat?/rewrite your beats to match your new direction.
Your beat sheet can be as detailed as you want.
The save the Cat! Beat Sheet
- Opening Image (0?1%) ? ?before? snapshot of your hero/world
- Theme stated (5%) ? life lesson statement made by another character that hints at hero?s arc (life lesson to learn by the end of the book)
- Setup (1-10%) ? exploring the hero?s status quo, introduce supporting characters and main goal. Show hero?s reluctance to change and hint at stakes if he does not.
- Catalyst (10%) ? inciting incident that sends them into a new world/worldview.
- Debate (10?20%) ? Reaction sequence showing hero deciding what to do next.
- Break into 2 (20%) ? Hero accepts CTA, leaves for adventure.
- B Story (22%) ? intro new character(s) who help hero learn the theme. Love interest, mentor, nemesis, etc.
- Fun and games (20?50%) ? See the hero loving/hating their new world. The ?hook? of the story (why readers picked up the story in the first place)
- Midpoint (50%) ? Fun and Games culminate in false victory or false defeat. Raise stakes, push hero toward real change.
- Bad guys close in (50?75%) ? Downward path or Upward path from the Midpoint. But hero?s deep rooted flaws are closing in.
- All is lost (75%) ? Lowest point, hero?s rock bottom.
- Dark night of the soul (75?80%) ? Hero processes what?s happened so far.
- Break into 3 (80%) ? The aha moment, hero realizes what he needs to do to fix all the problems from Act 2, and how to fix themselves.
- Finale (80?99%) ? Hero proves they have learned the theme and enact the plan from the previous point. Saves the world, makes it better than before, etc.
- Final image (99?100%) ? Mirror of Opening Image, the ?after? snapshot of the transformed hero.
from Save the Cat! Writes a Novel
NtS: You can use these percentages to estimate word count/page number where the beats happen.
The OPENING IMAGE is an image that helps the reader understand what kind of world the hero is in. Also, his flaws. The bigger the gap between your Opening Image and Final Image (its mirror image), the more satisfying the story.
(Beats can be multi-scene, spanning across scenes and even chapters.)
The THEME STATED is the hero?s need or life lesson, hinted up at the front, often by a secondary character that he ignores.
Ex: In Pride and Prejudice, Mary comments on how all people have pride, and is ignored by Elizabeth who then learns the lesson the long painful way. The Theme should be mentioned in the first 10% of the story. It?s what the story is really about.
People rarely change because someone tells them to change?People change only when they can see their flaws for themselves.
THE SETUP is a multi-scene beat that sets up your hero and the world, which should be ?riddled with problems.?
Your hero should be actively pursuing something when the book begins. Your hero and his world should be riddled with problems.
- STASIS = DEATH: the moment in the Setup beat when the hero must change or else.
THE CATALYST must be big. It disrupts the status quo. It?s a single scene beat that forces the hero to move.
THE DEBATE is what happens after a catalyst when the hero takes a step back and decide what to do. Every action has a reaction, so every catalyst has a debate. This is also where journey preparation happens ? training, gathering supplies, etc.
Opposite of act 1. When the hero will try to fix things the wrong way using a temporary solution.
Because you can?t figure out the right way until you?ve first tried the wrong way.
BREAK INTO 2: when we leave the old world and old way of thinking. Act 2 is all about fixing things the wrong way. Because you can?t figure out the right way until you?ve tried the wrong way first.
B STORY: You introduce a helper who will help the hero learn the theme. They have previously been unnoticed by the hero, or they?ve never met. By their nature, they bring out the theme in the hero, or maybe they have the same flaws as the hero, but more exaggerated, so they are a mirror to the hero.
They must be a product of the new world, because the hero can?t complete his transformation in their Act 1/status quo life. They could be someone who has the same flaw as the character or brings it out. You can have more than one ? a love interest AND a mentor, or a friend or whatever.
FUN AND GAMES: where you deliver on the Promise of the Premise. It?s a multi-scene beat that is fun for the reader, but not always for the hero. It is nearly 30% of the story, so vary the action ? bouncing ball narrative. Send your hero up and down over and over.
But the ball should bounce in a general trend up or down leading to?
MIDPOINT: the pivot point of the story, the culmination of Fun & Games. There is a False Victory or False Defeat here. It?s false because the hero still hasn?t learned the theme. They haven?t taken the opportunity to change and fix their flaws.
- Clocks appear to raise stakes and refocus the story. Ex: a ransom note with a deadline.
- There can be major game changing plot twists (Midpoint twist) especially in mysteries.
- There?s a big party, celebration, or public outing that makes it hard for the hero to back away again.
In the midpoint, there?s a shift from Wants to Needs. The hero starts to let go of what they want to figure out what they need. They rhave.ealize they can?t keep going on as they
Often, A and B stories cross here. Because no one changes until they?ve hit rock bottom, and all heroes must eventually fall. this is where many characters die or almost die. Especially mentors, so the hero can do the last part alone. (All is Lost)
Basically, something must end here. And the hero must be responsible in some way or there?s no lesson to be learned. Raise the stakes, because each time stakes are raised, you make it harder for the hero to move backwards.
BAD GUYS CLOSE IN: This is a multiple scene beat and can be the most exciting part of the story.
If you have no bad guys, though, have internal bad guys, your hero?s flaws.
This is where you show that the Midpoint false victory was false. Or the false defeat is false.
ALL IS LOST: No one changes until they?ve hit rock bottom. Don?t tiptoe around this. Do something really awful to your hero. Kill people, break people. Make it BIG or else the final transformation feels contrived.
Something must end here to be a catalyst. Mentor deaths are common here. It forces the hero to do the rest alone. (Whiff of death)
It should, in some way, be the hero?s fault because he still hasn?t learned the theme, and otherwise, there?s no lesson to be learned.
DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: the wallowing beat after hitting rock bottom. The hero may get angry, be in denial, etc. Often there is rain. It?s the last moment before REAL change occurs. Most revelations occur in this beat. (Dark Night epiphany)
There is also a beat where your hero can move backward (Return to the Familiar). This shines a spotlight on how much the MC has changed.
A great story continually raises the stakes.
Who the hero was in Act 1 + What they?ve learned in Act 2 = Who they?ll become in Act 3
BREAK INTO 3 is the breakthrough. If Act 1 was the thesis and Act 2 the antithesis, Break into 3 is when hero finally figures out how to fix things the right way and stops avoiding the real issues in their life.
FINALE: Longest beat in the third act. Breaks finale into 5 sub beats (storm the castle, high tower surprise).
- Gathering the Team: Hero needs people to help him storm the castle. He may have to mend fences broken in the All is Lost moment. This can also be Gathering of Tools, if there isn?t a team.
- Executing the Plan: There should be a sense of impossibility, ?can this really work?? the plan must seem crazy. Secondary quirky characters can have their moment here. Teammates may also start dropping off so the hero is forced to do it alone.
- The High Tower Surprise: Another twist to force the hero to prove their worth. Another catalyst. In a classic fairy tale when the hero storms the castle only to find that the princess isn?t there!
- Dig Deep Down: This is the Debate to the High Tower Catalyst. It?s where the hero has seemingly failed again, but finally they bring out the deep down biggest weapon of all ? the flaw they?ve overcome, the proof they?ve changed. the final leap of faith.
- Execution of the New Plan: Now the hero really triumphs, after all that soul searching and transformative effort. Even if the hero fails, the lesson is that it?s better to try and fail than never try at all. Make your heros WORK for their transformation.
FINAL IMAGE: The ?after snapshot? that shows how far the hero has come.
In the end, that is what all great stories do. They reprogram heroes. They transform human beings.
These beats are what make stories work, because they?re what makes HUMANS work.
This is story, folks. Because this is LIFE.
Is your hero?s transformation as big as possible? Have you hit the beats hard enough?
- Is your opening image ONE scene or a group of interconnected scenes?
- Is your Opening image VISUAL (show, not tell)
- Are one or more of your hero?s flaws evident in the scene?
- Does your theme directly relate to your hero?s need/spiritual lesson?
- Is your theme stated by someone/thing OTHER than the hero?
- Can your hero easily/believably dismiss the theme?
- Have you shown 1 or more things that need fixing in your hero?s life?
- Introduced 1 or more A Story characters?
- Established your hero?s external goal/want?
- Shown your hero in more than one area of life (home, work, play)?
- Hero?s flaws are evident?
- Created a sense of urgency that change is necessary? (stasis = death)
- Does the catalyst happen TO the hero?
- Is this an ACTION (not revelation) beat?
- Is it impossible for the hero to go back to their normal life after this?
- Is the Catalyst big enough to break the status quo?
- Can you sum up the debate with a question? Or if this is a Preparation beat, is it clear what the hero is preparing for and why?
- Is there a sense of hesitation in the hero?
- Have you shown the hero debating in more than one area of life? (home, work, play)
Break into 2
- Is hero LEAVING an old world and entering a new one? Physically or trying something new?
- Is the Act 2 world the opposite of the Act 1 world?
- Is the break between 1 and 2 clear/distinct?
- Does hero make a proactive move/decision to enter Act 2?
- Is hero deciding based on what they WANT?
- Can you ID why this is the wrong way to change?
- Have you introduced a new love interest, mentor, friend, nemesis?
- Can you identify how your B story character(s) represent the theme?
- Is your new character in some way a product of the upside down Act 2 world? (Would they stick out like a sore thumb in Act 1 World?)
Fun and Games
- Do you clearly show hero floundering or succeeding in new world?
- Does your Fun and Games deliver on the promise of your premise?
- Does your Fun and Games visibly show how Act 2 is the upside down version of Act 1?
- Can you clearly ID either false victory or false defeat?
- Have you raised the stakes of the story?
- Do your A (external) and B (internal) stories cross in some way?
- Can you ID a shift from the wants to the needs (even if subtle?)
Bad Guys Close In
- Is the path of this beat opposite to F&G?
- Have you shown how internal flaws are working against your hero?
All is Lost
- Does something happen TO the hero?
- Is the All is Lost big enough to push hero into Act 3? Have they really hit rock bottom?
- Have you inserted a whiff of death?
- Does this beat feel like another Catalyst for change?
Dark Night of the Soul
- Is your hero reflecting on something in this beat?
- Is this beat leading hero toward epiphany?
- Does hero?s life seem worse off than at the beginning of the story?
Break Into 3
- Does hero learn a valuable universal lesson/theme here?
- Does hero make a proactive decision to fix something?
- Is decision based on what hero needs?
- Can you ID why this is the RIGHT way to change?
- Is Act 3 world a synthesis of Act 1 and Act 2?
- Does hero struggle to enact plan? Is there conflict?
- Is there a Dig Deep Down moment where hero proves they?ve really learned the theme?
- Does A and B story intertwine in this beat?
- Is your final image ONE scene or a collection of interconnected scenes?
- Is final image visual? (show not tell)
- Is it evident how the hero has transformed?
- Does your ?after? snapshot mirror your ?before??
Chapter 3 Not Your Mother?s Genres
Ten Genres to Fit Any Story (Yes, Even Yours)
If you want to write a successful novel, you have to read successful novels.
Study how great novels work, why they?re successful, why they resonate.
There are 10 story genres:
- Whydunit: Hero solves mystery that reveals shocking aspect of dark side of human nature.
- Rite of passage: Hero endures pain of life?s common challenges (death, separation, loss, addiction, coming of age, etc)
- Institutionalized: Hero in a group must join, escape, or destroy it.
- Superhero: Extraordinary hero in an ordinary world comes to terms with being special/destined for greatness.
- Dude with a problem: Ordinary hero in extraordinary circumstances must rise to the challenge.
- Fool triumphant: Underdog pitted against the establishment proves hidden worth to society.
- Buddy love: Hero transformed by meeting someone else (love, friends, pets)
- Out of the bottle: Ordinary hero temporarily touched by magic (wish fulfilled or curse) and learns a lesson about making the most of reality.
- Golden fleece: Hero or group go on road trip in search of goal end up discovering themselves.
- Monster in the house: Hero or group must overcome some kind of monster in an enclosed setting, and usually someone?s responsible for bringing the monster into being.
Give Me the Same Thing?Only Different
Original is not an achievable goal in novel-writing?What IS achievable is FRESH.
Readers want to read something they KNOW they will like, told in a way they?ve never heard before.
You can?t bend the rules until you know what the rules are.
Why We Need the Genres
When people ask you what your book?s about, they want to know what it is most like and how it?s different from that. You find these comparable titles from the story genres.
Bleeding genres: Novels are complex, they don?t always fit in one category. Les Mis is both Institutional and Superhero. Also, individual books within series can have different genres. (Hunger Games = Dude With a PRoblem, Catching Fire = Institution, Mockingjay = Superhero)
So pick a genre but know it can change as you write/revise.
Chapter 4 Whydunit
Detectives, Deception, and the Dark Side
We turn to stories to find out more about ourselves.
What makes mysteries compelling isn?t the WHO but the WHY.
The reader is your real gumshoe. They?re the ones who are to be changed by what you reveal of human nature.
Every Whydunit needs:
- A detective
- A secret
- A dark turn
The detective can be anyone as long as:
- They?re unprepared for what they?re getting into (if it?s not something they?ve never seen before, what?s the point?)
- They have a reason for being dragged into the mess
- The dark turn: as secrets grow deeper, the detective?s desire to solve the case increases. And this is where the hero breaks or abandons rules (their own or society?s, moral, societal, or personal) in pursuit of truth.
Just remember to answer why THIS hero for THIS plot.
Very few of us are what we seem ? Agatha Christie
Popular Whydunit stories:
- Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
- Sherlock Holmes
- The Westing Game
- Kinsey Millhone series
- Gone Girl
- Memory Man
Brody ends with a beat sheet of The Girl on the Train.
Chapter 5 Rites of Passage
When Life Gets in the Way
Rites of Passage stories are about some kind of acceptance.
Growth involves growing pains. When life throws a curve ball you can handle it seriously or with humor. Same with this genre of stories.
3 essential ingredients:
- A universal life problem (Act 1)
- A wrong way to attack the problem which shows your hero?s resistance to change/desire to avoidand gives your story a purpose (Act 2)
- A real solution that involves acceptance of the hard truth the hero has been avoiding (Act 3)
What makes these stories unique is that the life problem is something unavoidable that all humans have to face. Like growing up, death, separation, etc.
Popular Rites of Passage stories:
- Emma by Jane Austen
- Great Expectations
- Anne of Green gables
- Catcher in the Rye
- The Kite Runner
- The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks
Here, Brody includes a Beat Sheet for The Kite Runner.
Chapter 6 Institutionalized
Join ?Em, Leave ?Em, or Take ?Em Down!
There?s a little crazy in all groups and families. But who?s crazier? The Group? Or Me for leaving it?
Heart of being human: can we trust others to have out best interests at heart?
- A group: a family, org, business, community, uniting issue that?s unique/interesting.
- A choice: ongoing conflict between hero and company man usually around whether to join/stay or not.
- A sacrifice leading to 3 possibilities: join, burn it down, or escape
The hero is usually a naif, often a newcomer introduced to the group by someone more experienced.
Sometimes, the POV character is a Marlon Brando ? existing members of the group that are starting to doubt it.
The Company Man: someone who has traded a piece of their soul for the safety of the institution. They aren?t just part of the group, they?ll defend it to death. These characters reveal the craziness of the world. (Ex: Hilly Holbrook in The Help)
Ultimately, all Institutionalized stories end with a sacrifice. The deeper message is about listening to your inner voice.
Write about what disturbs you, particularly if it bothers no one else? Elaine to Skeeter, The Help
Popular Institutionalized stories:
- Les Mis
- Scarlet Letter
- Little Women
- Great Gatsby
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- Joy Luck Club
- The Giver
Brody finishes with a Beat Sheet for The Help. This book actually has 3 overlapping beat sheets, one per main character.
Chapter 7 Superhero
Being Extraordinary in an Ordinary World
Superheroes are least like us but inspire us to be our best. We relate to the hero?s curse of being different.
Being different and bestowed with greatness often comes with a price. And that price is usually some variation of being misunderstood by the rest of the world.
Most Superhero stories are about triumph and sacrifice.
- Hero with special powers (not always magical. Can be something like undying faith in a cause. Whatever it is, it FEELS magical)
- Nemesis who opposes hero and has abilities that match or even exceed the hero?s. The difference is, the abilities are self-made.
- Curse that afflicts hero as a price of their greatness. It helps to give the hero a handicap, take them down a peg.
Most Superhero stories are about triumph and sacrifice. They appeal particularly to adolescents because they want to stand out, but not too much. It?s a tumultuous time of life.
The hero?s ability can be magic or just an undying faith that feels like magic.
The nemesis secretly knows they are not the hero (whether they admit it or not) because they need to build a facade of being special and do whatever it takes to keep up the image. Their abilities match or surpass the hero?s.
The nemesis lacks faith. It?s this lack of faith that drives them to kill the hero. They create a facade of being special because they know they are the false hero.
A common beat in many superhero stories is a Name Change. And there?s often a Mascot too. Someone who?s seen the hero?s greatness from the start.
Popular Superhero stories:
- Peter Pan
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
- Harry Potter 1
- The Lightning Thief
- Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Brody closes this chapter with a beat sheet of the first Harry Potter novel.
Chapter 8 Dude With a Problem
Surviving the Ultimate Test
Dude Stories are about inspiring readers with an ordinary hero. Ordinary people who rise over extraordinary challenges inspire us.
The badder the bad guy, the greater the heroics, the better the story, especially when they get PROGRESSIVELY ?badder? as the story goes on.
The satisfaction of reading a Dude with a Problem novel comes when our dude uses his individuality to outsmart the enemy in the end.
- Innocent hero: It?s their innocence that makes us love them.
- Sudden event: Catalyst must come out of nowhere and force the hero to face the problem ASAP. Like Mark Watney being stuck on Mars.
- Life-or-death battle: where the continued existence of a person, group, or society is at stake.
These stories often have a LOVE INTEREST who serve as champions or cheerleaders, like Peeta in Hunger Games.
There also is an EYE IN THE STORM moment when no matter how bad things are, there?s a bit of calm at one point. This is where the hero and the love interst can have a moment.
Popular Dude stories:
- Robinson Crusoe
- The BFG
- The Firm by John Grisham
- Holes by Louis Sachar
- The Martian
- Hunger Games
- The Call of the Wild
Brody produces a beat sheet for Stephen King?s Misery here.
Chapter 9 Fool Triumphant
Victory of the Underdog
- A fool: someone overlooked by society and often naive to their own potential
- An establishment: That the fool is pitted against.
- A transmutation: Where the fool becomes someone else, gets a new name or a new mission. As an accident or disguise.
The hero must be ignored by almost everyone, except one person inside who has vision. Being disregarded will seem like a weakness when it?s actually their advantage.
These stories often have a Jealous Insider, someone who sees the fool?s potential and feels threatened thus tries to sabotage them.
The fool isn?t trying to destroy anything, they?re just living their lives. Their innocence and gentleness is their strength.
Popular Fool stories:
- Oliver Twist
- Jane Eyre
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid
- The Other Boleyn
Brody ends with a sample beat sheet for Bridget Jones? Diary.
Chapter 10 Buddy Love
The Transformative Power of Love (or Friendship)
Nothing is more primal than a love story?because nothing hits home more than our human desire for companionship.
33+% of the US book market is romance novels. But love stories aren?t just romance. Friendship and pet stories are also in this category.
The key is that the hero is changed by someone else.
- An incomplete hero: One half of a pair that needs more work to get his life back on track. (There are exceptions where BOTH buddies are equally changed, so there are two heroes, two perspectives: Two-Handers)
- A counterpart: agents of change. Often a bit quirky and unique.
- A complication: Keeps the buddies apart. Sometimes a love triangle (Three Hander) or a physical/emotional problem. Provides primary conflict of the story.
- The A Story is the primary story line, the hook of the novel, what?s happening on the exterior and driving the plot forward
- The B Story is the side story, a character who represents your hero?s internal journey.
But in Buddy Love stories, the A story IS the love story
The Catalyst is the meeting of the special buddy.
Something must be keeping the buddies apart or there?s no story.
Often the All is Lost beat is when the two break up, separate, fight.
There?s more to life than living.
Popular Buddy Love Stories:
- Don Quixote
- Because of Winn Dixie
- Pride and Prejudice
- The Fault in Our Stars
- Eleanor and Park
- Me Before You
Brody gives the beat sheet for Everything, Everything at the end of this chapter.
Chapter 11 Out of the Bottle
A Little Bit of Magic Goes a Long Way
An ordinary hero is TEMPORARILY given some kind of magic, but realizes reality isn?t that bad, they don?t need the magic after all, and emerges a changed person. This is a popular genre for younger readers (Indian in the Cupboard, If I Stay)
- A hero deserving of magic: empowering an underdog or delivering a comeuppance to a worthy recipient.
- A spell/touch of magic: Make sure your illogical thing has logical rules to stick to. Don?t betray reader?s trust.
- A lesson: What does your hero learn from the magic and how do they ultimately fix things without it?
You have to make it clear why THIS hero is getting THIS magic.
It can be an EMPOWERMENT story (Cinderella) or a COMEUPPANCE story (Cinderella?s stepsisters). But careful: comeuppance is harder than empowerment.
The Act 3 beat is usually when people have to do it without magic.
The Debate is usually the reality check: am I dreaming? Is this real?
Popular Out of the Bottle Stories:
- A Christmas Carol
- Picture of Dorian Gray
- Mary Poppins
- Freaky Friday
- Indian in the Cupboard
- Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Brody ends with a beat sheet for Sophie Kinsella?s Twenties Girl.
Chapter 12 Golden Fleece
Road Trips and Quests and Heists, Oh My!
Road trips are about what we discover ABOUT OURSELVES. Every Golden Fleece story needs:
- a road
- a team
- a prize
These stories often have clever devices to help readers keep tabs on where the hero is. Like the scoreboard in Ready Player One or scrapbooks, etc.
Also common: the Road Apple. Something that stops the journey cold often when victory is in sight. A roadblock for hero + team to get around, forcing them to examine their strategy, repair burned bridges among themselves, dig deep to find their true strengths.
Fleece stories often have a B story of friendship or love. The traveling companion is important because they need to play into the internal/spiritual B story but also bring a certain skill or talent that will be necessary to the journey.
The prize: What do hero + team want? The prize must be compelling but in the end it?s not as important as the journey. Still, it must be something primal we can all relate to (going home, getting a treasure, freedom, wealth, birthright, etc)
One of the most resonant moments is when hero and readers realize the treasure they?re after isn?t as important as the real treasures they gained along the way (B story). That?s what makes these tricky to plot.
Your hero needs milestones along the way that may seem unconnected but MUST BE connected in the end, and all must move the hero closer to internal growth and real change.
Popular Fleece stories:
- Gulliver?s Travels
- The Canterbury Tales
- Alice?s Adventures in Wonderland
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
- Heart of Darkness
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
- The Fellowship of the Ring
- A Game of Thrones
- Ready Player One
- Six of Crows
Brody ends with a beat sheet of Ready Player One.
Chapter 13 Monster in the House
More Than Just a Scary Story
The key to this story archetype isn?t the scariness of the monster, but WHY the monster is there.
3 essential ingredients:
- a monster
- a house
- a sin
The monster = they?re not like normal humans. They?re piloted by evil. They?re supernatural by definition, driven by a motivation that goes against natural laws. In many Monster novels, people don?t just fear for their lives, but their SOULS.
The house = the smaller, the better. It could be a literal place, or a person (like Victor Frankenstein ? the monster only attacks him). The key is the MC is trapped. If they can run away, there?s no threat.
The sin = the prey cannot be totally innocent. He?s responsible for bringing the monster to being, invading it?s space, waking it up. It?s either the MC or a counterpart?s fault. Common sins: playing God, greed, etc.
The sin makes these stories resonate because it is what ties into the universal theme: Beware! this could happen to you if you don?t learn from these mistakes!
The sin also raises the question ? who?s the real monster here? The monster or us?
Often these Monster stories have a Half Man, a mentor-like character who has dealt with the monster before. They have knowledge about the monster and are often maimed/damaged by it. They serve to give background on the monster.
Example Monster stories:
- The Exorcist
- The Shining
- The Woman in Black
- Jurassic Park
- World war Z
- The Silence of the Lambs
Brody ends with a beat sheet of Heart-Shaped Box.
Chapter 14 Pitch It to Me!
How to Write Killer Loglines and Dazzling Synopses
If you can?t explain it simply, you don?t understand it well enough ? Albert Einstein
At some point someone will ask: What?s your book about.
That?s why you need a pitch, the summary on a back cover or online sales page. It tells enough of the story to leave you wanting more.
You need to paint a primal picture that has people wanting to read it.
This comes from screenwriting. It?s used to sell the book to publishers and producers but can sell to readers too. It?s a 1-sentence desecription of your story.
?On the verge of [stasis = death moment] a flawed hero [breaks into 2] but when [midpoint] happens, they must learn [theme stated] before [all is lost.]
Ex: ?On the verge of depression, a teen cancer patient meets a quirky fellow patient brings her back to life, but when one of them relapses, she must learn the true meaning of being alive before they?re separated forever.?
Don?t worry about the template giving too much away. It actually makes people more inclined to read the book because they trigger your innate story DNA by including everything a great story needs:
- Flawed hero (WHO the story?s about and WHY they need the journey)
- Break into 2 (WHERE the story?s going)
- Theme Stated (HOW this story is universal)
- All is Lost (WHAT the major stakes are)
The Short Synopsis
After the logline, you need a synopsis for the jacket flap/back cover copy. It?s a 2?3 paragraph summary to entice readers to read it. It?s seen by everyone. There are tons to study.
Ex: Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Humans and androids crowd New Beijing as a plague ravages the population [SETUP]. From space, ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move [STASIS = DEATH]. Cinder, a gifted cyborg mechanic is a second class citizen with a mysterious past reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister?s illness [FLAWED HERO].
But when her life is intertwined with Prince Kai?s [CATALYST], she finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle [FUN AND GAMES] and forbidden attraction [MIDPOINT]. Caught between duty and freedom?she must uncover secrets about her past [THEME STATED] to protect her world?s future [ALL IS LOST HINT].
Template for synopsis:
- Paragraph 1: Setup, flawed hero, catalyst (2?4 sentences)
- Paragraph 2: Break into 2 and/or Fun and Games (2?4 sentences)
- Paragraph 3: Theme stated, Midpoint hint and/or All is Lost hint, end with cliffhanger (1?3 sentences)
There?s more space for tone, style, creativity. But?
If you can?t pitch your novel effectively in one page, you haven?t figured out what you?re trying to say about it yet.
When pitching, HINT at the midpoint or All is Lost. Give enough info to intrigue, not spoilers. And always end in a cliffhanger to leave people wanting more! This is a tease, pitch, not spoiler.
In paragraph 1, we introduce t he flawed hero and their world (setup) and evoke the catalyst that will change that world.
In paragraph 2, we dive into Act 2 world and show the general direction of the plot and give the hook (promise of the premise).
In paragraph 3, we hint at the stakes (urgency) and internal journey which make up the WHY of the novel, while leaving readers wanting more.
This synopsis will be part of your query letter to agents and publishers. This is a test to be sure you?ve nailed your beats and your story resonates. Go research other synopses!
Chapter 15 Save the Author!
You Got Problems, I Got Solutions
Where to start? The 3 components of a story worthy hero + the 5 Foundation beats. Because you only know what kind of transformative journey your hero needs once you know what kind of person the hero is.
- A problem that makes them flawed
- A want or goal
- A need
The 5 Foundation Beats:
- Break Into 2
- Break Into 3
- All is Lost
Some questions to help the brainstorming process:
- What does the hero?s Act 2 world look like? How?s it different from Act 1? Is it different enough? (This helps with figuring out the Break into 2)
- How should the hero change the wrong way based on want not need? (Still helps with Break into 2)
- What major event is enough to kick the hero out of status quo into new world? (Catalyst)
- Does hero generally excel or fail in the new world? (Midpoint is false victory or false defeat)
- How does hero change the right way based on what they need? (Break into 3)
- What kind of rock bottom life-changing event is enough to convince hero to change the right way? (All is Lost)
Help! I Need More Structure! Using the Save the Cat! ?Board?
You can create a physical or digital board with index cards to represent the beat sheet to help you SEE the story.
Divide the board into 4 rows to represent Act 1, 2A, 2B, and 3.
Each card represents a scene or chapter. ONE piece of info only.
- Act 1 splits into 2 sections: Setup (opening image, theme stated, other cards)Debate (catalyst, other cards, break into 2)
- Act 2A:Fun and games (B story, other cards, midpoint)
- Act 2BBad guys close in (other cards)Dark night o f the soul (All is Lost, more cards, Break into 3)
- Act 3Finale (Gathering the team, Executing the Plan, High tower surprise, Dig deep down, Execute plan, Final image)
There are lots of scenes before we hit the life changing midpoint. That?s why there are B and C and D stories to fill the pages with something other than A story.
General rule: have about 30 cards per 25K words or 100 pages of story. So a 75K novel would take 90 cards. But when brainstorming use as many cards as you want. No limits.
The board is highly adaptable.
Help! I Might Have More Than One Main Character! A Look at Novel Narratives
If you?re writing more than one POV, like The Help, you need a beat sheet for each character to track their arcs. Nail down your primary hero first. Some beats may overlap.
To get good at juggling beat sheets, observe authors who?ve done it. Create a beat sheet for each protagonist and study where they overlap and differ.
Help! I?m Writing a Series! The Series Beat Sheet
Each book has 3 acts and 15 beats, but in trilogies the first book serves as the Act 1 world for the series and the 3rd is a giant finale. For a4-book series, books 2 and 3 serve as the Series Act 2 pre and post midpoint.
You also juggle character arcs for your hero for each novel and for the series as a whole.
When plotting a series, every book has to count. Not every book in the series will be the same genre. In Hunger Games, Book 1 is Dude with a Problem. Book 2 is an Institutionalized story. Book 3 is a Superhero.
Help! My Hero is Unlikable! How to Save a Cat
To help readers root for an unlikable character, give them one redeeming quality, action, or hobby. Give them one thing to cling to.
Ex: Katniss is gruff and unlikable except for her unconditional love for her sister.
OR give your hero a REALLY bad enemy or situation. We sympathize with people more when we know why they are the way they are. The Kite Runner?s protagonist is a cowardly kid who treats his friend badly, but when we see his father, we know why and can sympathize more.
Help! I?m Stuck! Some Parting Words of Wisdom and Inspiration
There?s no such thing as writer?s block. There?s only perfectionist?s block ? Emily Hainsworth
So let yourself suck. If you write something horrible, you can fix it.
Write something bad so Future You has something to fix!
And be flexible because beats will change.
The first draft is just you telling yourself the story ? Terry Pratchett
Don?t compare your WIP to someone else?s finished masterpiece. You can have Before and After Beat Sheets. BBSs are what you create before you start writing. ABSs are analyses of finished novels to study patterns in the story.
[Here the author includes sample before and after beat sheets for one of her novels]
I put EVERYTHING I have into these pages?hoping that something you read will not only stick but also serve to TRANSFORM?You?are the true hero of this story. You are the reason I wrote this book.
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