Novel Writer's Workshop: Save the Cat Categories in Literary Novels
I have decided that I will plot the last two-thirds of Silver Skies as a combo Save the Cat Institutionalized, Superhero, Golden Fleece and Buddy Love novel. The genres in Silver Skies 1996 Version are first and foremost Buddy Love (main thrust of the book is the love between Dor and Brianna and the barriers to that love), next strongest is Golden Fleece (God promises Dor a millennial marriage to Brianna if he fulfills certain conditions), next strongest is Superhero (Brianna has to come to terms with her destiny as a superhero), and then lastly Institutionalized (Franz Wilhelm must find the courage to destroy the New World Order, of which he is a vital part). I feel all have strong weight in this novel, with Buddy Love the strongest genre represented in the book. Though the superhero aspect centers around the female lead. I shall also use techniques from Lauren Sapala’s INFJ Writer. I have already made a playlist of songs for each character, when I just listened to my subconscious to decide what music represents each main character.
It’s a Buddy Love novel primarily because the story doesn’t end until the question is answered about whether Dor and Brianna get together. It’s a Golden Fleece, because Jesus tells Dor he can have a millennial marriage to Brianna if he gives his life for his people, which is a goal at the end of his road he must meet, to get his “treasure”. It’s Superhero, because Brianna is a woman with extraordinary powers that Dor needs to get his Golden Fleece. Like many Golden Fleece stories, the main character has a buddy he needs on the journey. It’s Institutionalized because Franz Wilhelm is stuck in a system, which he must overcome in order to help his daughter Brianna have happiness.
So Silver Skies 1996 Version is somewhat like The Thornbirds in its Buddy Love aspects. It’s somewhat like The Lord of the Rings in its Golden Fleece aspects. It’s somewhat like Exodus, in its Institutionalized and Superhero aspects. It’s somewhat like the book of Revelation (Bible), in its Golden Fleece and Superhero aspects since the book of Revelation is about the “prize” of superhero Jesus Christ setting up his worldwide reign (the Golden Fleece).
I think Save the Cat‘s categories are a little too simplistic and that the most meaningful and nuanced stories are created when you blend several categories together for each novel. Nevertheless, I think all novelists should be familiar with the Save the Cat categories and should all read Save the Cat Writes a Novel, just to ensure that their novel has the completeness it needs, that we didn’t forget the arm or the leg of our novel’s skeleton. So, while it’s true that all bodies need all parts of the skeleton to function correctly, the flesh that goes on the skeleton differs for each book. I see the skeleton as the outline of the plot. Whatever category you choose for your book, whether it be Buddy Love, Institutionalized or whatever, you want to be sure it’s ALL THERE and that’s why you want to read Save the Cat Writes a Novel. I’ve noticed that all good stories have all the parts Brody talks about within their category/categories, and sometimes even a bit more, like I think The Thornbirds is a combo Institutionalized/Buddy Love story, and it’s about even between the two, also! Longer novels tend to have several categories and can’t be pinned down to a simple formula, like you can’t say The Thornbirds (a long book) is only Buddy Love, there are definitely strong Institutionalized aspects to the story. Nor can you say it’s all Institutionalized, cuz Father Ralph is totally transformed by Meggie and vice versa, which is a Buddy Love story. Yet each is stuck conforming to their particular Institution. In Father Ralph and Meggie’s case, it’s the Catholic Church and for Meggie, it’s also her family, who seem stuck in a rut of sacrificing true love for something inferior, which is part of the Institutionalized aspects of the story.
My novel Silver Skies is a long book. I am currently about two-thirds in and I am at 150,000 words. Amazingly, despite the length, the book works and is a page-turner; so that when you read it, it seems much shorter than it is. My inspiration at the time I wrote it was The Thornbirds, which is about 280,000 words. When I wrote it, I only expected to write one novel and this was it, so I decided to go all out. It was my labor of love to show the world the type of love I had with Brent Spiner. But I’ve noticed it is a multi-category book, a combo of Institutionalized, Golden Fleece, Buddy Love and Superhero. I have noticed that most longer works that are good are a combination of several Save the Cat categories. Because of dealing with the stories of 3 point of view characters, who each have their own arcs and plots (and their stories interact with each other, but they each have their own stories) the book needs to be longer to work out all the aspects of all the categories in the storyline. I expect the finished novel to be about 225,000 words. I am considering a sequel to this. I’m still undecided. Let’s see how this book turns out first.
Oh, by the way, what I’ve self-published thus far is a horrible rewrite. I will take it down when I’m finished with this version (Silver Skies 1996 Version) which is based on what I wrote in the 1990s. Steven Spielberg read the 1990s version and made a movie, even from an unfinished novel. I have to admit when I read the 1990s draft and it just stops, I scream, “Where’s the ending?! This great book needs an ending!” And that’s what I’m doing now and I’m relearning all the writing skills I forgot in the 1990s right now, because this great book needs an ending. And I’m determined not to botch the rewrites this time and give it the quality ending it deserves.
Because I have 3 point of view characters in my Silver Skies, I give each character their own story/category. So Dor’s category is Buddy Love with a Golden Fleece subplot around this character (his golden fleece is when God uses him to win the Jewish nation to Jesus). Brianna’s category is Superhero. Franz Wilhelm’s category is Institutionalized. These can also overlap throughout the novel, so that any of the characters can have parts of other categories as they pursue their goals throughout the story. But one category predominates for each character and all the arcs for that category must be realized throughout the novel to give the novel complete character arcs and a feeling of completion. This does not denigrate Save the Cat at all, since knowledge of the different categories helps to ensure that the novel has a feeling of completeness and that the plotline creates a story that feels right for the reader, leaving the reader satisfied that whatever truth they wanted to acquire through the novel has been obtained. Knowing the major components of each type of story helps to ensure that you don’t leave anything important out in the plot. It helps to reveal plot holes that might need to be fixed.
Also, after every scene I have a sequel, using Jack Bickham’s techniques from Scene and Structure. A sequel is the character’s reaction to the disaster he/she encountered in the previous scene, where his goal was thwarted and he met with some sort of disappointment. Every scene should end with some sort of disaster or the story’s over. That is, until you get to the end.
During the sequel, I have to be true to the character and whatever he/she is obsessed with, even if it doesn’t fall in line with the category (Buddy Love, Superhero, etc.) for that character, I will go there if that’s where the character needs to go. If my Buddy Love character needs to ruminate Institutionalized thoughts and emotions after a scene disaster, then I let him go there. If he does this all the time, perhaps I need to change his category to Institutionalized. But the point is, I have to let these characters be who they are and not force them into a category arbitrarily. In fact, most of us never fit totally into one category, we are all blends and so should our characters be blends. Though to give a story completeness, probably one of these categories should predominate in a scene, or at the most two or three of these categories should predominate, depending on how complex the scene is. If we have more than one category in a scene, then all aspects of all categories presented should be explored and the reason for all of these aspects should be part of the overall plot of the book, not just something we put in to make the character seem “deep”.
This gives the characters three-dimensional depth, where they are just who they are and categories be damned. Though I think Save the Cat has done much good for writers, we must never forget to let our characters breathe, be totally who they are meant to be, even if it doesn’t quite line up with the category we put them into. I think the most believable and memorable characters are those who dare to be who they must be, and even think “dangerous” thoughts or forbidden thoughts, those things we all truly believe deep down inside, but are scared to voice. This is what makes a novel worth reading and has characters filled with surprises, but surprises that make sense. The way I wrote some of my sequels, they appeared to be scenes, cuz some of the reactions to a previous scene-goal disaster involved dialogue and interacting with other characters. So only if you understand story structure can you differentiate between scenes and sequels in a novel. You have to read Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure, which really helps with the skeleton part of writing, which is the plot, the outline. He also helps with some of the flesh, because the flesh of a scene is the character’s actions, thoughts, etc., which must all be related to the scene goal and the scene goal must be related to the main conflict of the entire novel. This gives the novel the unity it needs for the story to feel whole and complete.
The way I write works for both plotters and pantzers. Pantzers are those who write by the seat of their pants and detest outlines. If you’re one who likes outlines, then follow Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure and Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat Writes A Novel slavishly and to the tee. If you’re a pantzer or a blend between a pantzer and a plotter, then when you get to the sequel part of scene and structure (Bickham’s Scene and Structure), let your heart go free and write out that scene in all its complexity, giving the character’s emotions a free voice and just really let loose (listen to your deep subconscious) and forget the rules when you write the sequels. As an INFP writer, this is how I write. As an INFP, I find I need structure or my novel makes no sense or seems stupid, so I force myself to at least put the skeleton in place (and I follow the rules pretty much as described in Bickham’s Scene and Structure and Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat Writes a Novel), but I do my own thing in the sequel part of the scene/sequel structure AND I don’t force my characters into any category. They are who they are. I use the categories to make sure everything is there that needs to be there or that I eliminate stuff that doesn’t need to be there. But if my character is more than one category, I BLEND HIM and let him be two or three or four or one category, whoever he is.
What do I mean by do my own thing? I mean I let my character dream and I actually go into a type of stream of consciousness for a lot of my sequels. So though I’m following the rules for third-person limited point of view, my stream of consciousness sequels are borderline omniscient point of view, cuz the character goes so deep into his thoughts, it’s like he’s transformed and floating above everything as he dumps his heart onto the reader. My deeper characters (the kind I love) wax poetic and describes things from the depths of their soul. I have to be careful here, or I tend to be melodramatic, and I deal with that in the rewrites. But if I remember the rules, it helps me to give them just enough to be real and deep, but not so much that they seem melodramatic and “Mary Sue”. I venture into Mary Sue territory when I completely forget the skeleton. Also, in my sequel I let my character be himself and even let him change the plot and category, if need be! This is how I write as an INFP writer, who also needs to not forget my outline or I go into melodrama territory.
My approach to Save the Cat is think of it like a skeleton and when it’s time to put flesh on that skeleton, let your subconscious out of prison and let the character go free. Obviously, everybody needs a skeleton or we wouldn’t be able to function. But the flesh attached to the skeleton is different for each of us and none of us should be a cardboard cut out. We all need to be fully fleshed, individual characters in our stories and the character needs to be his own person totally, with a heart and soul that the author understands like he/she understands his own subconscious thoughts. We should feel free to explore our hidden fears, what we truly love and what really excites us as we flesh out our characters and lose the insecurity we feel when we don’t quite follow the rules in our writing. Follow the rules to give your character a skeleton, so that the story makes sense and rings true to the reader, but the flesh on that skeleton IS TOTALLY THAT CHARACTER’S and no other writer can write that character that you know deep down inside like you do! Not if you’re honest, transparent and courageous as you put that character on the page. And when you do this, your writing will ring true and seem so real and believable, the reader can’t stop turning the pages.
When I wrote Silver Skies I structured each scene according to Bickham’s Scene and Structure, but as I wrote the scene I went into my subconscious to give each character a unique and mesmerizing voice. I am an INFP and I write best when I give my imagination free flow, but I also need some structure as I write, or the writing seems to go all over the place. I allow for free flow of thoughts when I write the sequel after the scene, using Bickham’s techniques from Scene and Structure.
Though Silver Skies is a fantasy, it has the voice of a mainstream romance. I don’t care for the tone of most fantasies, with the exception of Lord of the Rings. My goal is to write a novel that has a literary feel, like The Thornbirds, but has an epic feel like Leon Uris’ Exodus.
I’ll be taking my stinking time on this novel cuz it’s a labor of love. I’m determined that when I’m finished it will be entered into the annals of great literature and that not only will people be enriched by reading it, but it will be a page-turner. It is my gift to humanity.
Will be adding to this post to let writers know how I write, to hopefully inspire other writers to write great. I wish Colleen McCullough wrote about how she writes, cuz I really admire her as a writer.
Copyright © 2020 Gail Chord Schuler. All Rights Reserved.