Save the Cat! Writes a Novel - A Great Book for Writers
Sorry, I haven’t written anything here in a while – I’ve actually been doing some real writing – but I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about this excellent book. (I have nothing to gain from promoting this. I don’t know the author, and I don’t have Amazon affiliate links.)
When I went to write a Goodreads review of Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, whom should I find at the very top of the existing reviews giving the book five stars? None other than the excellent (and apparently skeptical) Sebastien de Castell (The Greatcoats series, The Spellslinger series): “Brody actually delivers on what she promises and does it in a way that shows both expertise in her craft and compassion for her audience.” I agree 100%. This is an excellent book for anyone looking to understand how to shape a novel that works.
Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody is an absolutely astonishing analysis of the commonalities between some of the most diverse, successful, and damn good novels. The main focus of the book is the succession of fifteen “beats” that each novel she analyzes, and there are many, contains. The other major section of the book is devoted to ten “genres” of stories, which could just as easily be called “types” or something to avoid confusion with “genres” like science fiction, fantasy, mystery, etc. I’ve been sitting on some Audible credits forever, so I plunked one down for this. I think the audiobook is normally $16.95US. It is definitely worth it.
The thing that makes Save the Cat! Writes a Novel really great is Brody’s analysis of the fifteen story beats that make up so many successful novels from The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins to Misery by Stephen King to The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini to Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and many more. Don’t worry if you haven’t read these books – unfortunately Brody is not a big grimdark fan, though she mentions A Game of Thrones several times – you will get the point through her clear, concise explanations. According to Brody, nearly all successful conventional (not experimental) novels go through the same fifteen stages. These stages include everything from the opening image of the main character (MC) in their (I’m finding myself using non-gendered UK/Australia pronouns these days) current situation all the way through the final image of the changed MC in their new situation. Brody clearly explains each step, including the external (“A story”) and internal (“B story”) changes that the MC goes through along the way. Among these “beats” are the setup, the catalyzing event, the break into the new world of Act 2, the midpoint, the “bad guys close in,” the “all is lost” stage, the break into Act 3, the finale, the “final image,” and a few more in between. Everything is explained in detail using numerous examples, and the pdf contains concise “blueprints” of several well-known novels.
The second section of the book explains how most successful novels can be grouped into ten “genres,” or story types, that necessarily include certain common elements even if the stories seem completely different. For example, the “buddy love” type of story should contain an incomplete MC, a character that completes the MC, and a misunderstanding or other challenging conflict that keeps the two buddies or lovers apart until they can overcome it, or not. Novels as diverse as Pride and Prejudice and Because of Winn Dixie fall into this category. Another type of novel is the “Whydunit?,” which Brody names as such because “whodunit” turns out to be not as important or compelling as why they did it. Most of these types of stories have a “detective“ MC (which could be anyone) that is in over their head, a secret the reveals important information near the climax, and a dark turn that takes the “detective“ into the case further than they should go. “Whydunit” novels include diverse titles like Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. All in all, Brody lays out ten story types and gives numerous examples of each, including at least one full, fifteen-beat template of each type, which is also included in the accompanying pdf. A Game of Thrones falls into the “Golden Fleece” quest-type category, in case you’re wondering.
Also included in the pdf for the audiobook (and I assume in the text of the e-book or physical book) are helpful checklists to make sure you’ve covered the bases of your story type and the fifteen beats of your developing story.
Some purists might complain that Save the Cat! Writes a Novel is a prescription for a formulaic novel, but the wide variety of examples Brody gives should dispel that idea. She states, and I agree, that what she provides is a blueprint for writing any type of novel you want. Even if you want to write an experimental novel, you should know the conventions you are breaking. Picasso could sketch beautifully before he became a crazy cubist.
Save the Cat! Writes a Novel also contains many other helpful tips about loglines, synopses, building compelling MCs, and more. If you are struggling to get from start to finish on your novel or wondering if it works according to commercial conventions, you should definitely read Save the Cat! Writes A Novel. I put it right up there with Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer among my favorite craft books.
Well, that’s probably enough for now. If you have read all the way to here, I thank you very much. If you have any comments or questions about this post or its contents, or you just have a writing question, please contact me through my website. Sorry there’s no comments section on the blog. There’s something funky about the way wix.com websites implement comments that I have not yet figured out.
Until next time, I am available to edit your writing projects, and I enjoy the work. You can contact me through my website <sffeditor.com>, by email <mike.myers.editor(at)gmail.com>, or at my Facebook page www.facebook.com/SFFEditor. I’d love to help you make your writing as excellent as it can be.