Save the Cat for Novelists

For me, writing a novel is like walking into a forest–pretty soon I’m lost in the woods– lost in word choice, sentence formation, language, characters staring blankly at me while I stare blankly at them, and plot, what to do with what I have. The forest is midnight-dark, black sky above the thick-trunked trees and all I see in the vast shadowy distance is a tiny, sparkly light, a fairy flitting among the branches–the shiny new idea of another book. I start a desparate trot (sigh). Rather tired of that.

My book needed saving. Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting in a room (at Coloft in Santa Monica) with 5 other writers trying to find the way into their novel, one of them new to the writing art. The six of us were there to spend the weekend working our brains under the fine and gracious tutelage of multi-published novelist, Jessica Brody.  With nine published novels to her credit, and the ability to enthusiastically and succinctly convey information, Jessica led us into the forest.

I took with me my fantasy novel, A Lamentation of Swans, living with me for so long, I ought to charge it rent or evict it, but no, I decided to give it one more chance and dragged it to the two-day workshop offered by Save the Cat, legacy of the late Blake Snyder, extraordinary screenwriter who developed the Beat Sheet for his screenplays that can also be applied to novels. Scoot on over to the site and take a peak. Take your time. Lots of good stuff there.

Back? Okay! What we did last Saturday and Sunday was exactly as stated at Save the Cat, in the Novel Writing Beat Sheet Workshop,  and by the time we finished and closed up on Sunday, we each had a beat sheet of our novel, all 15 beats, plus the way to expand and develop our book, a logline–what the book is about–to keep us on course, and that most important ingredient: confidence! Whatever you might think about plot, structure, and how to write a novel, let me tell you, the Save the Cat Novel Writing Beat Sheet Workshop is well worth the time and money. Jessica Brody showed me how to save A Lamentation of Swans.

Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet is not a plug in the slot, write by numbers method, it’s a guide into your novel, whatever that novel might be, and only you know that. It’s the Mentor with a Lantern to help you define and refine your story. It doesn’t mean your novel won’t have soul because you and only you can put life into your novel and breathe soul into it. No matter how many workshops you take, how many books on writing you read, how much advice you’re given, how many writing software programs you buy, you are the one writing your novel, wrestling with words, creating your story. The Beat Sheet is a tool and I find it to be exceptionally useful in shaping A Lamentation of Swans, a complex fantasy, into the story I want to write.

I’ll leave you with this thought from Alan Watt, The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the story within:
“Story structure is not a formula. Formulas are predictable. There is nothing predictable about a well-told story. The hallmark of skilled writing is the ability to track the beats in a compelling and believable way that leads to a transformation.”

Ain’t’ we all aiming for transformation? Happy writing, d:)

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