As I mentioned in my review of Save the Cat!, the value of any how-to book is whether it inspires you to take action. For the past several months, I have been stalled out and completely avoiding working on my werewolf novel, The Cold Nothing Taste of Winter. After drafting about two-thirds of the book, plot problems proliferated and I didn’t know how to move forward toward the ending. Since a lot of my fellow writers have been recommending Save the Cat! recently, it seemed like a good idea to give it a read and see if it sparked the flame of progress once again.
It did just that.
Here are a few of the tools from the book I’m using to try to build forward momentum.
The logline, or one-line, is your entire story summed up in a single sentence. This helps in two ways — one it keeps the heart of the story clear in your head as you write, and two, it helps you down the line as you need to try to sell the book to others. Kristen Lamb, another writer who has recently read Save the Cat! has a great discussion one why novelists should create a one-line for their books on her blog. While I didn’t have a complete one-line prior to reading Save the Cat!, I did have a single sentence idea. Whenever asked about my novel I’d say:
It’s about a girl who takes care of her werewolf dad the way you take care of an alcoholic.
I usually got a positive response to that statement, though as Lamb pointed out when I shared it with her, it needs a goal and possibly a ticking clock to really work as a one-line. So, afters some toying with the idea, I came up with this.
Claire must keep anyone from finding out her dad is a werewolf, even if it puts her best friend in danger.
It’s not a perfect one-line, but it’s a better start, giving a sense of the conflict and threat involved. I’ll be tweaking it a bit more as I go a long in order to further nail down her goals/conflict and, since it’s from his point of view, too, her best friend Adam’s goals/conflict.
My one-line playtime didn’t stop with my current novel, though, and I started putting one-lines together for some of the other novel ideas I’ve either been working on or brainstorming lately. I’ve posted a few of them on my new Works in Progress page.
The Beat Sheet
The beat sheet essentially represents the major plot points from the story, including the Catalyst (or Inciting Incident), Break into Act Two, Midpoint, Break into Act Three, Bad Guys Close In, All is Lost (or Moment of Apparent Defeat), and so forth. The Save the Cat! website includes a breakdown of the beats in a variety of popular movies, along with other valuable tools, which is awesome.
When I started first writing The Cold Nothing Taste of Winter, I intended to write it from only Claire’s point of view, but as the story progress it became increasingly clear that Adam needed to have his own voice. The result was that I had a very clear idea of how Claire would grow and change throughout the story, but not much idea about Adam’s growth.
By putting together a separate beat sheet for both Claire and Adam, I was able to draw out what the major events were for each of them (with some cross over points). I still have some points to fill in, but ooking at Adam’s separate beats helped me get a better sense of where he’s starting in the story and where he’s going.
The Board is pretty much what it sounds like, a board on the wall divided into sections denoting Act I, II, and III of the story (Act II is split in two to show the midpoint), upon which the writer pins ideas, scenes, fragments, plot points, or pieces of dialog that come to mind. These can then be manually arranged in a variety of orders to try out where each scene should fall in the story.
The Board is probably my favorite tool from Save the Cat! I don’t have space in my apartment for an actually peg board with index cards and push pins, so I just bought a sheet of poster paper, drew in the Act lines, and used post-it notes instead of index cards.
After creating my Board, I began to throw up the most important plot points from memory (rather than looking at my drafts). I figure that if I remember the scene, then it’s either important or I care about it enough to include.
Sometimes I just NEED the tactile sensation of physically moving scenes around.
I’ve had a really challenging logistical problem at the beginning of my novel. It was driving me crazy and I couldn’t start the rewrite until I figured this problem out. After seeing the Board outline of my novel, the solution became clear — I picked up the problem scene in Act I and put it in the second half of Act II. Problem solved. Mostly. At least now the kinks are smaller and easier to work out.
The Board is also serving another fantastic purpose. It’s hanging on the wall of my bedroom, so the novel is always (at least) in my peripheral, rather than hidden away in a file on my laptop, where I could easily ignore it. Having the story present in my mind whenever I go into my room, when I wake up and when I go to bed keeps my mind working on it. My goal is to play with the board, either adding, removing, or moving a scene on the board everyday in order to continue keeping progress on plotting going until I’m ready to launch into actually rewriting the novel.
Personal Goals for the Week
- work on the Board every day
- brainstorm an opening scene for Adam’s story
- and on a separate note, compile on of the two poetry chapbooks I plan to submit this summer
Do you find any of these ideas helpful? How might you apply them to your own writing process?