Save the Cat Writes a Novel | Book Review

Throughout the online #writingcommunity and AuthorTube, a book I constantly see getting praised is Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat! Writes a Novel. Its ominous, yet intriguing subtitle is: “The Last Book on Novel-Writing You’ll Ever Need.” A book that talks that much smack out the gate is a book I gotta get my hands on.

I had many questions, including:

  1. Why does the title of this book “Save the Cat” sound like a City Girls song?
  2. Why are people swearing by this lil’ ol’ book?
  3. How will it help my crappy first draft?

I was so focused on reading Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, I waited a month and a half in my online library’s hold queue line to read it. Now that I’ve finally read through it, I have some thoughts.

What is the Save the Cat! Story-Structure?

The Save the Cat! story-structure was initially created by late screenwriter Blake Snyder. He wrote a ton of successful spec scripts and consulted mega-popular Hollywood studios. The story’s title refers to a beginning scene in a movie, where the audience sees the hero doing something nice (i.e. saving a cat). Therefore, the audience will easily like them and root for them throughout the movie.

Initially, Snyder made the structure for screenwriting. Author Jessica Brody recently released a novel-writing version of the Save the Cat series, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, in 2018.

Snyder says that every successful story has 15 specific story beats. Editor Savannah Gilbo has a fantastic post explaining the Save the Cat story beats in full, please go and check her post out for more details on each beat. Here, I’ll just list them out:

  1. Opening Image
  2. Theme Stated
  3. Setup
  4. Catalyst
  5. Debate
  6. Break Into Two
  7. B Story
  8. Fun and Games
  9. Midpoint
  10. Bad Guys Close In
  11. All is Lost
  12. Dark Night of the Soul
  13. Break Into Three
  14. Finale
  15. Final Image

Save the Cat! is The Matrix’s Red Pill

If you have seen the 1999 science fiction/action bop of a movie The Matrix, you’re probably very aware of the red pill/blue pill scene. If not, I’ll catch you up to speed.

In the search for answers about the peculiar world around him, Neo runs into Morpheus. Morpheus offers him a choice between two pills: a red pill and a blue one. With the blue one, Neo goes back to his normal life and gets to live in blissful ignorance. But, with the red pill, he learns the truth about the Matrix.

Y’all, when I looked at Save the Cat’s 15 story beats I started to see them in almost every book I read or movie I saw. I’m not BSing you.

Before I read this book, I believed that adhering to a “structure” would make your story uninteresting or stale. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Learning about story structure gives you the best chance of creating the type of story that people will actually want to read.

How Save the Cat! Writes a Novel Has Helped My Novel

I’m currently working on the second draft of a novel, Project BAN. Reading Save the Cat Writes a Novel helped me better understand my story’s deep-rooted problems, such as pacing and plot. With the assistance of Save the Cat!, I was able to outline a story that I believe is way, way, waaaaaay more compelling.

Save the Cat Writes a Novel also has a great section on crafting a hero, which helped me recognize my main character’s motivations and how they should develop throughout the story As a result, I have a better grasp of my story’s overall theme.

Do I Recommend Save the Cat! Writes a Novel? 

If you’re a creative writer, by any stretch of the imagination, you’ve got to check out Save the Cat! Writes a Novel. It’s not some magical book that will write your story for you. It won’t turn you into Stephen King/Maya Angelou/James Patterson/James Baldwin/whichever author you admire. But, it will help you better understand what makes a good story, which is difficult to master. I plan on buying (yes, with my hard-earned coin) a copy for reference, so I can look back at it throughout future projects and the progression of Project BAN.

What are your thoughts on the Save the Cat! series? What writing craft books do you recommend that I read? (Yes, I’ve already read Stephen King’s On Writing. I’m currently reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and I’m really enjoying it.) Let me know in the comments down below.

If you would like to read more about my writing journey, I’d recommend my posts about my Camp NaNo project, music I listen to while writing, or my August writing goals!

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