A few weeks ago, at a LARA RWA meeting, I had one of those professional-light-bulb-turns-on moments. Jessica Brody was presenting to us the Save the Cat! 15-beat outline method for your story, and I suddenly realized what was missing from the current manuscript I’ve been working on, and maybe even from every book I’ve written thus far.
Now, let me back-up a little first and say, I totally believe in creating an outline for your book, project…even life. There is nothing more committal to me than organizing your thoughts on paper and forging a path forward. Call it visualization, call it OCD, or being a control freak, but I’ve done this my entire life with everything from how I was going to finish high school a year early, to how I was going to move from Alberta to California, and how the hell I was going to navigate through Hannah’s sex life via four books. Let me also say that my husband, whose been writing scripts from way before The Dentist and The Toothfairy was even a twinkle in my eye, has read Save the Cat!, owns Save the Cat!, and has talked to me about Save the Cat! on many occasions.
Except Save the Cat! is for scripts, right? And I know how to write an outline, right? At least that’s what I thought, which is why this super-organized chick never thought there may be a better way to organize her organization tool.
There is a basic psychology that we as human beings can’t escape, which is why we categorically react to all situations in one of six different ways. This is why the stories that we remember the most all fall into ten different categories. And this is why when most of us see a heads-up penny lying on the street, we pick it up for good luck.
Here is the cliff notes version of what I learned that day (you know how I love my cliff notes). If you look at it carefully you’ll realize why and how this outline hits all those basic human emotional story arcs. And if you want to learn more, I suggest buying Save the Cat!, or visiting this website: http://novelsellingsecrets.com/, or both.
Save the Cat! 15-Beat Story Outline (p.s. you can download the sheet from here: http://www.blakesnyder.com/tools/):
1. Opening Image: This is the “before” snapshot. Why is the hero flawed? What does the hero need to learn?
2. Theme Stated: One scene that shows what the hero needs (not what he thinks he needs).
3. Set-Up: Everyone in “A” story is introduced.
4. Catalyst: Call to action; hero’s life will never be the same.
5. Debate: Hero’s reaction to catalyst.
6. Break into Two: Hero accepts challenge. Hero leaves old world for new world.
7. B Story: One scene that introduces “helper” story. The B story will help the hero learn the theme.
8. Fun and Games: Hero struggles, or has fun, in new world.
9. Midpoint: False victory, or false defeat.
10. Bad Guys Close In: External bad guys re-group, or internal bad guys (hero’s flaws) surface.
11. All is Lost: One scene where hero has seemingly failed.
12. Dark Night of the Soul: The rock bottom! Hero’s reaction to “all is lost”.
13. Break into Three: Hero digs deep and learns the theme of the story; the spiritual lesson.
14. Finale: Hero puts plan into action to get what he needs.
15. Final Image: The “after” snapshot. Dramatically different from the opening image.