Save the Cat! Writes a Novel Can Save Your Manuscript (I Promise)--A Book Review
If you’re writing historical fiction, where you have a day-by-day account to rely on, you probably don’t need much help. Just craft a few fictional characters and plug them into the real-life events.
However, if you’re writing something that’s pure fiction, like one of my current WIPs, you might lose your way. I know I have. I’m wondering where-in-the-bleep my story is going. I’ve got lots of ho-hum character development and not a lot of plot tension. Nothing is ramping up, character-wise, and I’m 26,000 words into the manuscript.
If I was being truly honest, there’s not much plot at all in my manuscript.
Uh oh. I think I need help. Major help.
Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat! Writes a Novel is the best 64 pages on novel writing I’ve ever read. Seriously. (Is this book only 65 pages long, you ask? More on that later.)
A colleague in my writing accountability group (who’s also one of WOW’s high priestesses) suggested I read this book and review it. She made sure I got a free copy. When it arrived, I scanned the table of contents, and skimmed some of the pages. Obviously, this book was not my cup of tea. I’m a pantser. When it comes to outlining and plotting and creating boards, I’m like Teflon, baby. None of that pre-planning stuff sticks to me.
I put the book on my bookshelf, planning to read enough to fake a review… ’cause it wasn’t a book that would work for moi.
Days turned to weeks. The book review was overdue. Unable to procrastinate any longer, I bit the bullet and started reading… and I couldn’t stop.
I. Couldn’t. Stop.
Jessica Brody has succeeded where my writing friends have failed… where my accountability group members have failed… where my editor has failed. Jessica Brody has made me into a planner. (Say hallelujah!) I’ll try to share the wealth of this book in less than 1,000 words.
Before getting into the true meat of the book, Brody insists we create a story-worthy hero. To help, she shares what three things every hero needs, she discusses a novel’s A story and the B story, (which was made crystal-clear when she pointed out the external story of Stephen King’s Misery), she lists the universal “lessons” a hero has to learn, she provides some exercises to determine if our hero is story-worthy, and she even includes a checklist, to ensure we have a hero that can support a novel.
All that, and she does it in just the first 10 pages of what I consider the most effective and user-friendly 64 pages on manuscript-mapping.
Whew! Immediately I started thinking of my meandering-to-nowhere story. I started jotting notes about my hero in the margins of Save the Cat! Writes a Novel (because I wasn’t in a spot to create notes on index cards). I realized that my hero–Nathan–struggled with self-acceptance. That was going to be the lesson he’d have to learn.That thunderbolt brought to mind other plot-bits I’d have to include.
The next 54 pages blew my mind. Brody walks the reader through mapping out a novel’s three acts. I’ve been told to do this in the past, but have resisted. And I’ve resisted with a smug smile on my face. This book breaks a story’s map down into doable chunks (and wipes the smirk right off my face).
Doable for even a pantser like me.
For example, Act 1 needs to include
- a powerful opening image
- the stated theme
- the set-up
- a catalyst
- a debate
Amazingly, each of these “road-markers” are clearly explained, and popular novels are used as examples to further illuminate. While reading, I kept nodding my head. This is groundwork I have not done with my WIP. It’s the stuff I should have envisioned before getting 25,000 words into a major rut.
Act 2 is broken down into these parts (I’m not including all of them):
- The B Story
- Bad Guys Close In
- All is Lost
- The Team Gathers
- The High Tower Surprise
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