One could argue Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! is one of the most influential books on story structure, not just in the screenwriting community for which it was originally written but in the fiction realm that adopted his format just as readily. It’s no surprise that when you visit SavetheCat.com, it proudly proclaims itself “The World’s #1 Storytelling Method.” But up until now, it’s mostly been writing coaches adapting the original book and the screenplay formats to fit the novel, with varying degrees of success.
Jessica Brody’s officially licensed book, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, then is a straightforward adaptation of Blake Snyder’s original fifteen beats, applied to the novel rather than the screenplay. The first couple of chapters do an admirable job of giving a top-level view of the parts that make up a story. None of this is new, of course, but Brody does a good job of making it clear, concise, and understandable. You don’t have to wade through chapters of irrelevant details to grasp the general outlines of standard story structure.
The rest of the book is then devoted to explaining what she calls the “ten universal story genres” and showing how they apply to well-known novels. These are a little different than the seven to nine universal story plots that get referenced often, and it would be difficult to find a story that doesn’t in some way fit into one of these genres. The “Why Done It” chapter, for example, references And Then There Were None, The Da Vinci Code, and Memory Man, then proceeds to break down the plot of Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train beat by beat. The “Buddy Love” chapter, on the other hand, references Pride and Prejudice, Because of Winn-Dixie, and Twilight, then takes an intensive look at Nicola Yoon’s young adult romance Everything, Everything.
The biggest criticism I hear about this book (or any book on story structure) is that a rigid structure encourages uniformity and not creativity. I disagree. You would never say that having a definable beginning, middle, and end hampers your creativity—but that’s story structure! Novels that don’t follow any kind of structure can be unconsciously unsettling to the reader, because it goes against our deeply ingrained understanding of what a story should be. The reason I’ve always liked the Save the Cat! method is because it simply lays out the beats… how you get there is entirely up to you. That said, this is certainly not the only story structure, and it won’t be right for every single book or every single author.
Even so, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel comes awfully close to its bold subtitle: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need. Indeed, if there’s only one book I could recommend to new writers for internalizing how to write a story and learn what goes there, it would be this one. I’ve read a lot of books on novel writing, but this one is heads and shoulders above the rest for clarity and simplicity.
Buy your copy on Amazon.