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Apr 3, 2020

How "Save the Cat Writes a Novel" Helped Improve My Stories' Structure

By Kia Dennis.

In the eternal struggle of plotting versus pantsing, I find myself coming down squarely on the side of plotting. I need to outline–extensively! I crave structure. I’d heard the terms ‘inciting incident’ and ‘story beats,’ but for a long time, I didn’t have a handle on exactly what they were. Then, a writer friend of mine suggested I read Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. I started skimming it in the bookstore and immediately realized why my friend swore by it.

Ms. Brody relies on the tenants established in Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat! The Last Book On Screenwriting You'll Ever Need. I haven’t read Snyder’s version, but both authors outline 15 structural elements required to move through any story. Each of these 15 major beats has additional sub-beats within them, and Brody does an excellent job explaining what they are and why you should have them. The discussion of the intricacies of each beat was the key for me; it crystalized the key elements that I’d seen in bestselling novels but wasn’t able to put a name to or adapt in my writing. In an effort to show rather than tell, Brody also takes several bestselling novels in various genres and breaks them down into their Save the Cat beats. It is extremely helpful to see how the structure is applied.

There’s also a chapter on pitching and writing synopsis and common problems authors run into. As we all know, writing a synopsis is hard! Ms. Brody’s synopsis template is great for establishing structure in a synopsis, and, of course, it shows how knowing your story beats helps make writing the synopsis so much easier. I’ve read the chapter on writing a synopsis at least as many times as I’ve read the chapter on structure.

Now, I’ll be honest. I don’t follow the Save the Cat structure to the letter when I write. But I do find it helpful to think about my story, especially when I’m outlining, in terms of the beats discussed in the book. Do I have the major beats? Are they in the right place?  I also find myself going back to the book as I write whenever I get stuck. Often, I’ve gotten a beat out of order or am missing one completely.

If you’re a pantser, the Save the Cat method may not be for you. But if you are looking to add a little form to your fiction, I can’t recommend Save the Cat Writes a Novel enough.


About the Author: Kia Dennis
A lifelong writer, Kia Dennis, is a former lawyer and educator transitioning to full-time writing. She’s published several scholarly articles in the legal field and completed two romantic-suspense novels, which she hopes to have published in the near future. Kia is currently working on her next book, a thriller/suspense novel. She lives in the Toronto area with her husband and two sons. Connect with her on Twitter @kiadenniswrites.