Free Resource

Why I Love the “Save The Cat” Plotting Method

I found the “Save the Cat”  beat sheet about a year ago. I can’t remember if it was recommended at a panel I had been to or if it came up as a suggestion on another blog I read, but I fell in love immediately.

Plot structure has been something I’ve been trying to study more and more over the last few years. I had read articles and books on the Hero’s Journey and Three Act Structure, and even though I could pick the plot points from those out of movies and books, I still struggled to use those structures to outline my own stories.

For one, a lot of examples I found for the Hero’s Journey had male protagonists and some gender bias written right into them. The gender of your protagonist isn’t the most important thing about them, but a large part of my goal is to write stories where the ladies are the heroes. There are definitely more examples now (The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc). I still found that Save the Cat was easy for me to learn and apply to my own favorite films and books, without bias.

Until I read Save the Cat and Save the Cat Writes a Novel. I highly suggest getting either of those books, even after you read this blog. I’m going to talk about some of the basics that helped me and share the worksheet I use for personal reference, but the books break it down in a detailed and easy-to-understand way that can’t be substituted in a quick blog post.

I’ve also created a worksheet that I used to have an “at-a-glance” look at my plot for NaNoWriMo, here’s a preview and you can grab the link to the PDF at the bottom of this post.

The Basic Structure

One thing that majorly helped me understand how the Save the Cat structure worked was seeing it applied to one of my favorite movies. 

The Winter Soldier is by far my favorite Marvel movie. My husband and I actually regularly cosplay Captain America and Black Widow. I know the movie by heart so when I found a beat sheet for it, it was easy to see how the story elements ran along with the plot. 

You can check out the beat sheet for The Winter Soldier and a ton of other movies here. For me, once I could visual the parts and elements of the beat sheet, I could start to create my own.

Here are the basics:

Act 1 

Opening Image – This sets the tone for the book and establishes what the “ordinary world” is like. We get a taste of the main character’s problem.

Set-Up – We learn more about the “ordinary world” before the adventure begins.

Theme Stated – This is the main theme of your story, stated by someone in the story to your main character. They don’t understand the theme yet. That will come over the course of the story.

Catalyst – This is like the inciting incident, it kicks off the action and now things are starting to change for your main character.

Debate – Your character has to make a choice based on the catalyst. The main character may doubt their ability to move forward. 

Act 2

Break into Two – The main character has made their choice and it’s time to start the adventure. The world of act 2 should be an upside-down or opposite world from the “ordinary world” either literally or figuratively.

B Story – The B Story usually centers around a love interest or close friend of the main character. You can have multiple B Stories in a plot. These characters help teach the main character the theme of the story.

The Promise of the Premise – The character goes on their adventure and explores the premise that the book has set out.

Midpoint – This is the point where the main character gets what they think they want, but they realize it’s not really what they need. A lot of act two is your character trying to solve their problem the “wrong” way.

Bad Guys Close In – This one is a little self-explanatory. The bad guys take their shot, whether they are physical enemies, the main character’s insecurities, or other entities. The main character has to keep going and keep fighting.

All is Lost – This is a lot like the Catalyst, it’s a call for the main character to act against bad odds. They may have lost friends, lost their will to move forward, or realized that they’ve spent a lot of time and effort for nothing. They may even lose more in this section, to really shake their hopes and motivation.

Dark Night of the Soul – This echoes the Debate in the first act. The character has hit rock bottom and they have a choice. Give in to the darkness and give up, or try again. Try something new.

Act 3

Break into 3 – The hero rallies behind a new idea, new motivation, a new will to try. The world of the third act combines the first two acts. It synthesizes the ordinary world and the upside-down world into a new combined world for the third act. Our hero is still the person at the start of the story, but now they’ve gained skill and wisdom.

Finale – The Climax! The main character has learned the theme, they fight and they win.

Final Image – This tends to echo the opening image, but now everything is different. It highlights the change and the journey that has been taken.

Grab the worksheet here:

https://app.box.com/s/z39sujjyvxiwlyi3dpcm45qsopt5uuuj

Writing Guide

Ways to Quiet Your Inner Editor

It generally takes me about a week to quiet my inner editor during NaNoWriMo.  For the first week, I fight with her a lot.  She tends to want me to go back and fix plot ideas, weird sentences and anything else she can think of.  I have learned one thing from her, listening to her is the quickest way to stop myself from getting my writing done.  I’ve also watched a lot of friends become crippled by their inner editor, so they don’t make their daily word counts and end up quitting before they make that one week mark in NaNoWriMo.

So I decided to share a few handy tools to circumvent your inner editor.

ILYS

Ilys is a great website that even lets you test drive their software. When using their software, you set a word count goal and then it brings you to a screen where you can only see single letters as you type them.  You cannot see if you have made errors and you cannot go back and fix them if you did until you hit your word count goal.  This is a great way to set a word count goal and just go for it.   It basically forces you to complete your writing without any sort of editing.  You also cannot see the errors, so it may make you less anxious about making them.

The trial account allows you to write up to 10,000 words before signing up for a member account.  When I looked into a paid account, it was only about 10 dollars a month.

Write or Die

Write or die is a program that sometimes scares me.  When I first used it, the program would actually delete everything you had written if you waited too long to keep writing.  Write or die now comes with several different options, and you can also try out the service to see if it is the kind of app that will motivate you.

You can still set the app to erase your writing if you pause for too long.  You can also ask it to provide negative reinforcement.  When I stopped writing, the app played horrible, off-key violin music until I started writing again.  You can also set it to reward you, if you buy the program, and it will provide positive feedback as you hit your writing goals.

Both of the apps are great ways to break things up and force yourself to write!  Are there any other tools you use to get yourself writing?

 

 

NaNoWrimo · Writing Guide

Writing Sprints – Countdown to National Novel Writing Month

I actually did a lot of writing sprints before I  knew what they were.  A friend and I would find a writing prompt, usually a word or a song lyric we liked, and then we would write for a set amount of time and swap what stories came out of those sprints.  Writing sprints are very commonly used by NaNo participants to bolster their word counts.

A writing sprint is where you write for a set amount of time.  Generally, you do not edit during this time, you just hunker down and get those words on the page.  During NaNoWriMo, these sprints can be essential to ensuring you get your word count.  I personally like sprints that are 20-30 minutes long, but you can do sprints that are 10 minutes or 15.  I’ve seen some people even do 45 minute sprints.

Sprint with friends!  Hop on twitter, email a friend, invite them over.  When I sprint with friends, I find I’m more motivated to get that word count going.  We will usually share our word counts when the sprint is over.  I am the competitive type, so it often has me typing like crazy to try and get the most words on the page for that sprint.  There are also apps you can use like wordWar by Dr. Wicked.  You can join competitions in progress, or get a Pro account and start your own “word war” with friends.

Twitters sprints!  You can check out NaNoWordSprints throughout November to sprint along with others working on their NaNo Novels. You can also check hashtags like #wordsprints or #writingsprint to find others on websites like Twitter and Tumblr, who are sprinting.

If you need a sprinting buddy for November, please let me know, and I will give you my email for sprinting.  Or check me out on twitter @TamingTheMuse.  I will definitely be doing some sprints next month!

 

NaNoWrimo · Writing · Writing Guide

Plotter or Pantser – Countdown to National Novel Writing Month

The first time I “won” NaNoWriMo was in 2013.  I read No Plot?  No Problem, created characters, and did my best to create a semi-coherent sci-fi book.  It was called “Equilibrium” and it was a meandering mess.  It was not a total failure though, I learned my first baby steps to writing a full-length novel that year.  I also learned I was a planner, not a “pantser.”

What is a Pantser?

A pantser is a writer who flies by the seat of their pants.  They don’t need an outline, they just write what comes next.  They start their journey at the beginning and they sail on until they meet their destination.

Even though I’m a planner, I do have pantser moments, where the characters go left instead of right, and I have to figure it out as I go.

What is a Plotter?

A plotter is someone who plans their story out in advance.  They might write it chronologically, or they might skip around, because they have an outline.  I love a good outline.  I like to know where my story is headed and what I need to write next to get it there.  There are lots of ways to outline a book, I tend to use Scrivener to do mine, and go scene by scene.  I try to hit major plot points, like the inciting incident, pinch points, midpoint and finally the climax, as I plot.

This year I’m going to try to plot out my story by “beats.”  It’s very similar to the way I’ve outlined in the past, and you can find lots of “beat sheets” online that give you an idea of when to hit what points in your story.

So, are you a pantser or a plotter?  Have you tried both, or only one?  

NaNoWrimo · Writing

Intro to NaNoWrimo – Countdown to National Novel Writing Month

The moment October 1st hit, the thought “You need to start planning for NaNoWriMo” hopped into my mind, because it confirmed that November is just around the corner.

If you are not familiar with NaNoWriMo, this post is a quick introduction to get you up to speed.  I decided I would post a blog each Monday this month to give my readers tips and tricks about participating in this event, based on what I’ve learned over the last three years.

I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, since November 2013.  NaNoWriMo is an annual event where writers commit to write 50,000 words in a single month.

First of all, head on over to nanowrimo.org and sign up!  The great thing about the website, is it will give you a place to keep track of your novel’s details and word count.  You can also add friends (aka Writing Buddies) who are participating and track each other’s progress once November starts.  I tend to be a competitive person, so if I am falling behind and my friend is killing it, seeing their word count grow motivates me to keep working on mine.  My screenname on nanowrimo.org is freudianslipped, feel free to add me if you are participating this year!

Every Monday for the next month, I’ll be covering topics related to NaNoWrimo, and here is what I’ll cover:

Oct. 10  – Plotter or Pantser?  Do you like to outline, or would you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants and make it up as you go?

Oct.17 – Writing Sprints.  What are they and how can they help you make that daily word count goal.

Oct.24 – Write-ins.  Whether you are going to a coffee shop, or participating on Twitter, these can be a great way to get writing.

Oct. 31 – Keep Going!  Ways to help you catch up if you fall behind in November.

 

Are you participating in Nano?  Is this your first year or are you an old pro?  I’d love to hear about it!

 

 

NaNoWrimo · Writing · Writing Guide

Quieting your Inner Editor

In preparation for National Novel Writing Month, I wanted to write about something that serves as a struggle for most writers.  The goal of NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words in a month and if you’re constantly rewriting words, it becomes quite difficult to make that count of 1,667 words a day.

The problem most writers I know face, is that they end up in a never-ending loop of editing.  They write two sentences or a paragraph and go back and fix it over and over again.  This is one of the fastest ways I know to halt your NaNoWriMo progress.  Many of the friends I mentioned have fallen into this trap and only managed to get a thousand or two thousand words out before they gave up altogether.

So here are some tips and tricks to help you get to the finish line this November.

Try ilys.com.  ilys.com is an online word processing program that only allows you to see the letter you type as you type it.  You can’t hit backspace or go back and rewrite any of what you’ve written, until you’ve hit the word count you are aiming for. It forces you to keep writing without editing until you have hit your word count goal.

The sign up process is easy and they give you 10,000 words to as a trial.  Once you’ve hit the trial word count, if you like ilys.com, you have the option of buying the an account for about $10 a month.  I have had friends who have had great success with this program.  The only drawback I find is that it often requires a lot of editing for minor mistakes and typos.

Turn off your monitor.  If you can’t stop yourself from editing and just want to get a bit of writing done, this is another alternative similar to ilys.com.  Set up your preferred word processor and turn off the monitor or cover it if you are on a laptop.  You may even want to step up a timer, so that you have a certain amount of time that you are committed to not looking at what you’ve written.

Practice.  Practice.  Practice.  This technique may sound overly simple, but one of the best ways to quiet your inner editor is to be aware of it and to ignore it when it comes up.  Remind yourself that you will edit the book when it is finished and make notes in a separate notebook or document if you need to.  If you’re writing in Google drive, you can even make comments to remind yourself what to fix later.  I can tell you that getting in the habit of not doing any major edits until after the writing is done, even if it’s just getting that 1,667 words done for the day, will get you closer to your goals as a writer.

I’ve even know friends who just free write constantly and never hit the backspace button.  This isn’t exactly my style, but if you find yourself over editing, it’s a technique that might help.

How about you?  What do you do to keep your inner editor quiet?  Feel free to share in the comments.

NaNoWrimo · Writing Guide

Getting ready for National Novel Writing Month

If you are a budding writer and finally want to get that book that’s been inside you on paper, now is the time!  November will be here soon enough and it is known to many writers as NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month.  

This will be my third year participating.  Okay, that’s not completely true.  I had said for many years I was going to do NaNo, but didn’t truly commit or make a plan to accomplish it.  Whether you are a planner or a pantser (I’ll explain those terms in just a minute) having a map for the month of November is the best way to give yourself a good start to completing that book.

Failure to plan is a plan to fail.

You definitely don’t have to outline the book you want to write, so don’t think that is what I mean by planning.  In NaNo there are often two kinds of writers.  Planners, who do a lot of work before they write their novel, outlining and perhaps researching their story so they are ready to dive in.  There are also Pansters, who “Fly by the seat of their pants” and write whatever comes to mind.  No matter what camp you fall under, it’s still a good idea to ready yourself for NaNo and plan ahead for a few things.

Are you going to start at midnight October 31st?  A lot of people use that time to gain both momentum and word count.  You won’t be alone, at least online, because other Nano participants will likely be writing as well and tweeting about it.

Set aside time each day to write.  Before you get started, plan a time each day to get those 1,667 words in each day.  You’ll be glad you did, because you will be less likely to fall behind and then feel like it’s going to take forever to catch up.  Plan ahead.  If you know you’re going out of town for Thanksgiving or to see family in November, maybe plan to double your word count for a few days before you go.  You’ll be glad you’re ahead, rather than behind, when you get back to your story.

Find some writing buddies.

Once you’ve signed up on the Nanowrimo.org site, find some buddies.  You can do this by lookin through the forums or adding friends from your real life.  Each year you get to watch as your buddies work toward their word count, and let me tell you, watching them blast their way past you is a great motivator to catch up to them.  It’s not really a competition, but that edge can help me at times to work just a little harder.  If you’d like to add me as a writing buddy on Nanowrimo.org, my screenname is Freudianslipped.

SPRINT

No running shoes required!  A writing sprint is where you buckle down for an allotted set of time and just write.  At the end you check out your word count and give yourself a pat on the back.  If you’re sprinting with friends, you might share word counts and encourage each other.  It’s a great way to shut off the world and get some of your writing done!

So there you go, there are my tips for NaNoWriMo!  Hope you have a fantastic National Novel Writing Month!