Book Review: Save The Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody

If you ever try to do anything creative, there will always be people trying to tell you how you should do that. Writing is no exception.

If you Google How To Write A Novel, you’re sure to be inundated with books, magazine, websites, sage advice from best-selling authors, self-proclaimed writers, readers, and editors, and tips and tricks from everyone who’s ever tried to put pen to a page. It can – no, it will be – overwhelming.

It can be difficult to take advice from someone on how to do something, especially is that advice feels like it forced onto you, but even when it’s not, the most difficult part is often to figure which advice to listen to. I spend a large amount of time on Twitter browsing hashtags like #WritingCommunity and #AmWriting, and if you have a look there you’re sure to find people saying that there are no rules in writing, that there are no rules except their rules, that you have to follow a step-by-step easy-to-follow 732-step on How-to-write-a-book, and everything in between. It’s exhausting.

In my time as a writer I’ve come across a myriad of these sources myself, and the only advice I feel comfortable giving is to be wary of what advice you listen to. But I have read a few books on writing, and I’ve tried to single out my favorites over on my Writer’s Resources page. They include, Goal Motivation & Conflict by Debra Dixon, Techniques of The Selling Writer by Dwight Swain, and On Writing by Stephen King, among others.

And now, this.

The beauty of Save The Cat – which it’s colloquially known as; a title that comes from the idea that to write an unlikable character, you have to give the reader a reason to root for them, so you make them save a cat – is that it never actually tells you how to write. It doesn’t require that you follow a strict formula, or use a certain system to plot your future stories.

What it is, in essence, is a system to help you understand which parts of a book does what. When you know that, it’s easy to identify what pieces are missing – and how to implement them.

Because whether you like it or not, all storytelling follows a similar pattern. All good storytelling follow that pattern even more than others. That’s not to say that you can’t be unique, can’t write something entirely originally, and can’t work exactly the way you prefer. If you want to write your book backwards, with vanilla yogurt on slates of granite while you’re jumping on a trampoline, be my guest. Save The Cat isn’t going to stop you being you. But it will help you identify your story.

It gives you a recipe. In a world where all books are bread, you can’t get away from baking a loaf of bread if you want to write, regardless of how you want to spice it up with sprinkles and flavors. Save The Cat does that. It lays out 15 easy-to-understand Beat Sheets, divided up into a three acts, to explain how story works. And that’s it. When you’ve read the first 25% of this book, I promise you you will have learned how to write a book. The remainder of the book is filled with examples, where Brody goes through popular novels to put Save The Cat to the test. She highlights 10 books, all serving as an example for a type of genre (of which there are only 10 in the whole wide world of storytelling), and shows you how it works.

In a world where all books are bread, you can’t get away from baking a loaf of bread if you want to write, regardless of how you want to spice it up with sprinkles and flavors.

What you do with it after that is up to you. I’m not a plotter myself, so I don’t make a massive outline before I start writing. But with my latest project, I did draw up a simple 15-point, one-sentence-per-point overview where I mapped out the story from A to B, and it gave me an entirely different outlook on my story.

One of my previous favorite books on writing is Goal Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon, which goes more into detail about how to write characters specifically. I highly recommend that one, in combination with Save The Cat. With those two books at your disposal, nothing can stop you from writing a killer story. I promise.

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