Fiction Writing Made Easy

#126: Save The Cat! Troubleshooting Common Plot Problems With Jessica Brody

January 23, 2024 Savannah Gilbo Episode 126
Fiction Writing Made Easy
#126: Save The Cat! Troubleshooting Common Plot Problems With Jessica Brody
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“Every time you write something hard, it changes you as a writer, and it makes you a better writer.” - Jessica Brody

Today I'm sharing a conversation with Jessica Brody where we talk about some of the most common mistakes writers make when outlining, writing, and editing their books using the “Save the Cat” method.

Read the blog post here!

Here's a preview of what's included:

[02:30] Jessica introduces herself and shares her experience writing fiction using the Save The Cat! plotting method.

[04:00] Savannah asks Jessica about marrying the external plot of a story to the protagonist's internal arc. Savannah sees a lot of writers focus solely on the external plot events and not enough on character growth and development. Jessica shares her thoughts on how to make sure you're balancing both plot and character as you write.

[11:45] Savannah asks Jessica to talk about two important multi-scene beats—the Fun and Games beat and the Bad Guys Close In beat. Jessica shares her thoughts on breaking these longer beats down into smaller, more manageable chunks.

[18:00] Savannah asks Jessica about being too rigid with the Save The Cat! structure. Specifically, what happens if your beats don't line up with the percentages recommended? Jessica shares her thoughts.

[21:50] Jessica talks about how she had a hard time with the All Is Lost beat and the Dark Night Of The Soul beat until she figured out a very important distinction.

[30:40] Jessica talks about some things to consider in terms of your first 25-50 pages when it comes time to query agents.

Links mentioned in this episode:

Want to write a novel but not sure where to start? Click here to grab a FREE copy of my Story Starter Kit workbook that'll help you get clarity on your characters, setting, theme, plot, and so much more!

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Jessica Brody:

I think it's just about challenging yourself to I can do this. I can write a harder scene. Every time you write a scene you don't think you can write, even if it doesn't turn out the way you want it to, every time you write something hard, it changes you as a writer and it makes you a better writer, because I guarantee, no matter how it turns out, you will learn something about yourself and about how you write.

Savannah Gilbo:

Welcome to the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast.

Savannah Gilbo:

My name is Savannah Gilboe and I'm here to help you write a story that works. I want to prove to you that writing a novel doesn't have to be overwhelming, so each week, I'll bring you a brand new episode with simple, actionable and step-by-step strategies that you can implement in your writing right away. So, whether you're brand new to writing or more of a seasoned author looking to improve your craft, this podcast is for you. So pick up a pen and let's get started.

Savannah Gilbo:

In today's episode, I'm sharing a conversation I had with Jessica Brody, where we talk about some of the most common mistakes writers make when outlining, writing and editing their books using the Save the Cat method. Jessica is the author of the number one best-selling novel writing guides Save the Cat Writes a Novel and Save the Cat Writes a YA novel. She's also the founder of the online writing school, writing Mastery Academy, and she's written over 20 novels for teens, tweens and adults. I was so excited when Jessica agreed to come on the show because not only do I love her craft books and think she has an excellent way of breaking down story structure, but also because I work with so many writers who love using the Save the Cat method and I started to notice through my work with these writers that there were patterns in some of the things that people got confused about when it comes to this method. So I really wanted to talk to Jessica about these different things, or these common questions and the common mistakes and pitfalls that I see writers fall into and things like that. So I'm very excited to share our conversation with you in today's episode and I won't make you wait any longer. Let's dive right in. Welcome, jessica, and thank you so much for coming on.

Savannah Gilbo:

The Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast.

Jessica Brody:

Hi, Savannah, thanks so much for having me Super excited.

Savannah Gilbo:

Sure, I'm very excited to chat with you today because you authored one of my most favorite craft books well, two actually now. So Save the Cat writes a novel and Save the Cat writes a young adult novel, which I have been pouring over. It's right next to me on my desk and I know many of my listeners are giant Save the Cat fans, so I know this episode's gonna be a big hit. In the beginning of this episode I introduced you, but in your own words. Can you give us a quick overview of who you are, what you do and things like?

Jessica Brody:

that? Yeah, absolutely so. Well, thank you for that great intro. I'm so excited to know that you like the book. Yeah, so I'm Jessica Brody and I started out writing novels and I've written over 20 novels now but it didn't come easy to me. At the beginning I struggled a lot with structure and when I found a screenwriting guide called Save the Cat, it totally changed the way I looked at story. It made sense to me. I started using Save the Cat to structure my own novels and that's when I actually started to sell novels to publishers, once I had learned the laws of structure. So I've been using it ever since and since then I've written now to novel writing guides based on the original screenwriting method. I also teach writers in my Writing Mastery Academy, which we can talk more about later, and, yeah, so I kind of split my time between writing my own novels and then helping writers write their own.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and we'll link to all that in the show notes. And it's really cool in your Writing Mastery Academy, which we'll talk about later. I'm a member and I love seeing how you break down in your process in there. So if anybody is not a member and you want to see how she's written those 20 novels and how she uses Save the Cat, that's the place to go. So we'll link to all that. But what I want to do in today's episode is talk through some of the most common mistakes and pitfalls I see writers fall into when using Save the Cat to brainstorm, outline, write and edit their novels, and I've boiled it down to the three main ones. So, if it's okay with you, jessica, I want to dig into those and hear your thoughts Fantastic.

Jessica Brody:

I'm excited to hear what you think the three are, because I have my own ones and I want to see if they line up.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, that'll be really fun. So we'll have to compare notes at the end. But one of the main things I see because I don't do this currently, but in the past I used to edit a lot of outlines and people would send them in and they would just be a lot of external stuff. So they would fill up the Save the Cat beats, they would use Save the Cat as a guideline and they say, okay, these moments call for something big to come in and change the character's life, or this is when the climax is that moment the hero and the bad guy go up against each other. So I would see all these external scenes and these things on the page and then it's kind of like it's just a lot of stuff. So there's a lot of stuff happening.

Savannah Gilbo:

It kind of fills what the beats are asking for, but there's that piece of why does this matter or how does this affect the character. That seems to be kind of lacking. And one thing I love about your Save the Cat books is that these are the types of protagonists that we see in these genres. Check off these three things. So you're thinking about your character in a way where they're gonna grow and change. Right, we have that flaw and that arc of change they go through. But what are your thoughts or do you have any advice on how to take that external stuff that we put in the beats and bring it back to character?

Jessica Brody:

Yeah, I mean that's such a great one and I honestly haven't talked a lot about that, but I do write about it in the book. But that's a really good observation that you would see someone kind of attack the beat sheet from an external point of view, and it makes sense. I mean, when you look at Save the Cat method, it was based on a screenwriting method. Screenwriting is all visual, it's all external and things are happening to the character. But it has to be portrayed by the actor and it does come out in the writing. But as novelists, we have this opportunity, this golden, wonderful opportunity, to get inside a reader's head or a character's head, which we call it interiority, and see exactly how each of these external plot points are changing them. It's the part of writing that I love the most is that kind of deft hand it requires to externally show something happening and then allow the reader to piece together how it's changing the character, without really spelling it out for the reader, which we call telling instead of showing. So really, the beat sheet is designed to help you construct external plot points that are designed to change your character, and that's why I tell writers that it's easier to start with a character. First, at least those three things. We've got the flaw or the big problem that the character is facing, we've got the want or the thing that the character is externally pursuing, and then we've got the need, which is really what they require to internally transform by the end of the story. And if you come into the beat sheet with those three things in mind as kind of the pillars or the rudders that guide you, it's a lot easier to design plot points for that character. So if you have a character who really needs to learn how to trust, for example, then yeah, one of those external plot points needs to be a betrayal, because that's the thing that's going to really test them and push their boundaries. So there's about five beats in the beat sheet. I call them the foundation beats. I talk about this in the book as well.

Jessica Brody:

Those are the external plot points that trigger all of these things. That kind of are tent poles in the story and they direct the story and they turn the story into different directions. So you can call them the five major turning points. And those are the catalyst, the breaking to two, the midpoint the all is lost, and the breaking to three. These are the places where you really want to lean on external devices, things happening from the outside to the character, for example, you don't want your catalyst to be something like. My character realizes that because that's an internal thing for somebody to realize. You want the catalyst to be this happened to my character, therefore causing them to realize something. So that's where I guide people to really lean into external. But then you've got all this space in between those five plot points which are spread out throughout the beachy where those things impact your character internally. And of course other external stuff is happening too, but those are kind of the big ones. So that's how I approach it in terms of the external, internal.

Savannah Gilbo:

I call it the dance structure.

Savannah Gilbo:

Right, I love that too, and I always tell people when in doubt, think about external and internal for every scene. It's going to exist in every scene. So force yourself to say, okay, this happened and it's impacting my character this way. And I pulled up an example from Save the Cat writes, a young adult novel because, like I said, this is my current obsession for story structure. But one of the examples in is in the Fault in Our Stars, when Hazel and Augustus meet. So this is I think you have this as buddy love, so this isn't a buddy love genre. So you know, I teach all kinds of different genres on this podcast.

Savannah Gilbo:

But let's say you were writing a story like this and you need to bring your two main characters together, right? So the book that Jessica wrote she talks about how bringing these two characters to together is that catalyst. They shake each other up because they each touch on the other's flaw, right. So it's like that's a great way to ensure that it's the catalyst. It matters for some reason, right? It's not just like she meets this hot guy at therapy. It's like she meets this hot guy for therapy. Any triggers her because their flaws are opposite sides of the coin, absolutely yeah. So I think that's really cool and I like everything you said about you know having those three ingredients and just brainstorming them to before you plot and let's say you are a plotter that you know writes all the external stuff. Just bring it back to your character in every scene. How are they thinking about things, how are they feeling, how are they reacting, and you should create that nice chain of events.

Jessica Brody:

Yeah, because that's what makes the external plot points matter. If a big bomb goes off at your catalyst, unless it's putting someone's life at stake or someone's life who the main character loves at stake, it doesn't matter to the character and therefore it won't matter to the reader either. So making sure that every one of those external plot points has personal stakes for your character is key.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and then just a quick follow up question because I might be wondering if I'm someone listening. You said there's these big moments that are driven by the external, and then we have those internal beats, like the debate, where it's like your character's kind of processing and reacting. The other thing I see sometimes is they'll take this part to literally too, so it's all very internal and there's not a lot of stuff happening. So any thoughts to add other than just making sure you combine external and internal in every scene?

Jessica Brody:

You know, I think that there's way.

Jessica Brody:

That's a great observation as well, because, yes, as novelists, as I said, we have this golden opportunity to get inside the character's head and a lot of times we just take that and run with it and we just live inside their head for pages and pages and pages, and that's not very interesting to read about.

Jessica Brody:

So I always kind of press people to say, okay, where is this scene taking place? Where can you interweave action with internal reflection that it's going to make that internal reflection not only come about more organically but also make it more interesting. So, for example, if your character is debating about whether or not they should go on some big journey, have them be at their house listening to a conversation with their parents or their family and they're thinking, oh my God, I would have to leave all of this behind. So that's triggering that kind of internal strife within them because of what's happening around them. And I think it's really key where you place those scenes in order to create that conflict within your character, as opposed to it's never very interesting to just have your character sit on a park bench alone and think. Always find ways that you can interweave it with some kind of action which will make that thinking a lot more dynamic.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, it's like what we need to do to get the beautiful result of novels that work, but it's also the hardest part about our jobs is writing novels, absolutely. The second thing I wanted to run by you is the fun and games and the bad guys close in beats, because I see writers struggle so much with these and first I thought we could focus on fun and games and the main thing I see is that people do not put conflict in these beats because they're supposed to be fun, right? So yeah, yeah, yeah.

Jessica Brody:

What are your thoughts? Great question. Now the fun and games and the bad guys close in. If you're out there and you're struggling with them, you are not alone. These are the hardest beats, and not just because they're the longest beats, but that is part of it. Because they're very long, there's a lot to fill there and I know a lot of writers are like I wish that was broken down into further beats. What I do, actually to break them just as a little side note, to break down those long beats into smaller beats is, I think, of what I call sub goals. So every fun and games and every bad guys close in should have a goal. That's kind of driving the character through this entire long beat. And you can always break down big goals into smaller goals and smaller goals can have smaller conflicts that get in the way which make the big goal harder. So that's one thing and that kind of ties into how to make the fun and games a little bit more have a little bit more conflict. In that the thing that makes it fun is not necessarily that the character is having fun Of course they can and that we see that in books a lot but most of the time the thing that makes it fun for the reader is because the character is completely out of their comfort zone, and that's the whole point of Act 2 is to take them away from their safety, comfort of Act 1.

Jessica Brody:

And the whole point of Act 1 is to establish that comfortable zone so that when we move into Act 2 we're like, whoa, this is uncomfortable, this is different. And there's just some fantastic examples of moving from Act 1 to Act 2. And you see a lot of it very starkly in fantasy, like in Shadow and Bone, when she leaves her world as a map maker and answers the world Grecia that's kind of a really stark example. The Hunger Games obviously she enters the capital. These are really obvious ones. But then you have subtler ones, like In the Fault in Our Stars, when she was alone and now she's in a relationship, and that is a completely different world. So just watching the character flounder or struggle or have to figure out the new rules of this new world is organically going to trigger conflict. And then the other kind of key ingredient is to make sure that the character is following some type of goal and that you are throwing obstacles in the way of that goal, and that is going to make for conflict as well.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and I know that in Save the Cat World you guys call this the promise of the premise, right. So it's kind of like what the readers are seeing on the back cover copy. Like I'm thinking of Harry Potter because I love that example of fun and games where it's like he said Hogwarts, but it's definitely not easy for him, like there's a lot of conflict, right, but it's all the fun stuff like the world that we're getting into that we were promised by that back cover. But it's not like Harry's just kind of floating around exploring hypocrites and, like you know, having fun on his broom, like there's a lot of challenge because, like Jessica said, he's a total fish out of water.

Savannah Gilbo:

So I think my default for this stuff is like that it's in every scene there needs to be conflict, so fun and games. Just because it's named, that doesn't mean there's a lot of fun and no conflict, absolutely. And then in the bad guys close in beat that's also a multi scene beat, right. I see a lot of writers only focusing on the external and then they have trouble because they're like I can only show so much of bad guys closing in on my protagonist and so they struggle with escalating the conflict in stakes. They ignore the internal bad guys because they just don't know. What are your thoughts on that multi scene beat?

Jessica Brody:

Yeah, you know I see a lot of people kind of get confused about the term bad guys close in. You know this was originally in the screenwriting guide. I didn't come up with this term when people have trouble getting their head around it because maybe one they don't have real, you know, equitism show bad guys. I tell them, just think of it.

Jessica Brody:

As conflict closes in, tension closes in.

Jessica Brody:

It's where the world starts to seem smaller, and I don't mean in like fantasy world, just that the walls seem to be closing in, like all of the stakes are raising, everything is just getting more and more difficult and like claustrophobic for your character.

Jessica Brody:

And the way we really use that external that's an external idea is we show how it affects the character. You know, because they haven't yet dealt with that flaw that we established way at the beginning. They haven't yet overcome their fear or their limited belief or learn to forgive the people they need to forgive or whatever it is you put them in this story to do internally. That hasn't happened yet and all of the things you're devising to throw at them should be like pressing on that wound that you know, like just exacerbating that flaw, and that's what makes it feel like the walls are closing in not just because there's bad guys with you, know guns or whatever you've chosen to envision, because, once again, if those don't have personal stakes, they don't mean anything. So just making sure that whatever you're closing in with your character, it has personal, it has a personal repercussion for them.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and to use that example, it is very hard to. How do you escalate when bad guys are at the doors with guns? Like how do you escalate that so many times in a row? It's going to be very challenging unless things start to affect the character and unless we're seeing kind of the consequences of previous decisions that are all coming into play now. You know, it's kind of like the what's the saying roosters coming home to roost, chickens coming home to roost, right, it's like that time in the story. You know it's some in romance stories you'll see like breakups, you'll see like side characters kind of slip away and things like that. So you have all these different levers for how you can make it feel claustrophobic and more tense, more pressure and all that. So it's not quite as literal as just like bad guys over and over and over.

Jessica Brody:

Right, I love that term lever. That's a really great term in terms of you can. There's lots of things you can do that are not quit essential bad guys, and they're not kind of classic conflict. It's really about brainstorming what's going to affect your character personally.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, even information can help. That, like it's learning, that you, you know, thought something was going to work out and it's not. It's losing a resource or a friend. So you can play with all of these different things to create that building pressure. But speaking of things that can be taken a little too literally, one thing I also see is that people worry if they don't have everything perfectly lined up with the percentages they worry about. You know, my catalyst comes at 9 percent instead of 12 percent. Is this the end of the world? What would you say to those writers that's?

Jessica Brody:

one I hear a lot to actually, so that one is one that aligns for both of us. The reason I put so many examples in the books and there's 10 full b-cheats in each book, so you can really see that these guidelines are guidelines and they're not set in stone. And let me just you know, just to clarify where I even got the percentages is I took averages of books. I read a ton of books across genres, across time periods, and I said, ok, here's where the catalyst falls, here's where the bad guys close in, here's, you know, and I and I laid them all out by percentage of where they appeared in that book and then I took an average. And so of course there's going to be some that are way earlier and some that are way later, and there's different reasons to do that. And you know I have a whole section in the new Save the Cat YA book all about when to use a late catalyst and when to use an early catalyst, because that's one that will shift around a lot.

Jessica Brody:

You mentioned the catalyst because I get this question so often. The part where it starts, where you should start to quote, unquote worry is when your percentages are falling by a large amount. So if you've gotten like to page 70 and you haven't hit a catalyst yet, even if you're going to write a 700 page novel, that's pretty late to put in the story, you know. Or if you're doing, let's say, you're just forget about the beats and you just wrote a messy first draft, which is what I often recommend and you're going back and you're kind of seeing where everything is laying out and you're looking at your midpoint and it comes at 40%. Maybe you haven't built up to that midpoint yet, you know, and maybe it's coming a little too soon. And then your second half is dragging. And then if you ever get beta readers to give you feedback or some early readers, a lot of times what they're saying is going to correlate almost exactly to the beat sheet.

Jessica Brody:

When you hear someone say you know the second half really drags, look at where your midpoint is. Maybe it's too early, maybe your all is lost, is too late, and therefore you've got this long section. That's not really doing much for your story. Or you know the beginning was really slow but then once they took off on their adventure, it really took off. Ok. Well, that's probably lining up with your Act 1 being too long, so just kind of using it as a diagnostic tool to help you find problems, and not necessarily as a kind of like a rigid, yeah, rule book, prison, yeah, that you should be locked into. That is not what it's for, right or prison.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, I also like to think of it as a diagnostic tool or kind of like an assistant in a way, because it's kind of like, if you don't know what to do next, you can pick up one of the books or the Save the Cat beat sheet and just say, ok, this is kind of where I'm supposed to go, based on, you know, all the evidence of story structure and history and so what are some ways this could come out Right. It's like your little assistant reminding you of the roadmap you're trying to follow and then, when you're editing it it's exactly what Jessica said you can use it to say which sections you know are too long, too short, or where do I maybe need to rethink something you know. So it's not like you're totally going to ruin everything. If your catalyst is 2% earlier, or if you have like one extra scene in Act 1, maybe that works for your story. Maybe you'll hear that it doesn't, which is also why it's important to get beta readers and you know feedback on your story. But let's see.

Savannah Gilbo:

So there's also another FAQ that I'm just thinking of is people are confused sometimes about multi-scene and single-scene beats, which is why I love the two novel or the two craft books that you wrote, because you really lay it out which ones are single-scene and multi-scene. So in like a multi-scene beat when you're writing your own novels, let's say it's the debate. Do you have any tips for, like raising the stakes or from? I like what you said earlier about in the bad guys close in and the fun and games you think about micro goals, so something like that. Do you have something for us about how do you go through multi-scene beats in a way where you don't lose your mind?

Jessica Brody:

Yeah, absolutely.

Jessica Brody:

And just for anybody who hasn't read the books, I'll just clarify really quickly. A single scene beat means that the beat happens in one scene, and so those are actually those turning point beats that I mentioned earlier the catalyst, the break into two, the midpoint, the all is lost, and the break into three. There's a few other ones, but those are the big ones and so they happen and they're over, and sometimes they'll happen in a paragraph in a novel, but really this one scene and then the multi-scene beats are the kind of longer stretches that span between those single scene beats, so they connect those beats together, and so those are things like the debate that connects the catalyst and the break into two. And the reason I clarified them so explicitly in my books is because they confused me for years, because I don't think Blakescider ever actually said single scene, multi-scene. Those were terms I came up with to wrap my head around it, because I kept going oh, what's the difference in the all is lost and the dark night of the soul? They feel like the exact same beat. The all is lost is a single scene, it's the external thing that happens to your character in a single scene, and then the dark night of the soul are the multiple scenes. They have to wallow in the after-path, and so I use those terms for my own benefits and then put them in the books. I'm glad they're helpful.

Jessica Brody:

So with the multi-scene beats, yeah, for me it is usually about how am I going to get to the next single scene beat? So if you have a catalyst, the catalyst and the debate and the break into two are kind of the perfect ones to look at. So something happens to my character at the catalyst. They are going to have to make some kind of big decision at the break into two that's going to send them into a new world or way of thinking or way of doing things at the break into two. Okay, so now I've got these scenes to string those two together. So what do I need to do to organically get my character from those two points?

Jessica Brody:

So those are questions you can ask yourself, like what's going to convince my character to do what I want them to do so that it doesn't feel contrived? What are the organic things I can throw at them to convince them? What else can happen to them in that debate? That kind of pushes them further towards the decision I want them to make. So it's all about creating those organic paths to the next beat, and a lot of times that does come with goals and micro goals.

Jessica Brody:

With the debate specifically is, you know, I like to kind of put my characters in different places so they can debate among different things. So if it's you know, whether or not they're going to set off on a road trip with their ex-boyfriend which is a book I wrote, you know, like I have them actually, you know, going home and remembering things that happened with the ex-boyfriend. I have them like at school almost bumping into the ex-boyfriend and kind of having to navigate. That. There's like a lot of places you can put them where they can organically debate this decision that they have to make.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and I actually love that example because it makes me ask another question that I'm sure other people have is in that scene you just talked about where she goes home and she's like thinking about her boyfriend and stuff like that. She still has a goal in that scene. So it's not like probably we're just seeing her sit on our couch for no reason, like she either you tell me if I'm wrong but she either wants to like escape the world, make dinner, just come home from work, like whatever it is. We know what she's doing and she's thinking about the boyfriend and the memories while she's doing it.

Jessica Brody:

Absolutely, and that is one of the quickest way you can amp up any scene, no matter what's happening in it, is to give it a goal and, like you said, great examples of there can be. The goal can be as small as having to make dinner or get a cup of coffee, or they can be as large as you know, like breaking into a bank vault for some price, you know. So, scenes goals. A lot of people hear scene level goals and they think, oh my gosh, I have to like make these huge goals for every scene. No, it can literally just be. I just want to get a cup of coffee. Oh, but my ex boyfriend is in the line. Do I really want that coffee? How badly do I want that coffee? And then that are organically triggers internal debate, all while you have this goal of getting the coffee.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and I love that too, that goals could be simple. And even in the example that she's at home, imagine the characters at home and she's just like I'm so glad to be home. I'm going to distract myself by organizing my photo albums and making coffee so that I don't think about my boyfriend. The conflict is her memories of the boyfriend coming up. So it can really be whatever you want, as long as it spurs conflict that has an impact. It's not just like conflict for conflict's sake, it's triggering that wound.

Jessica Brody:

So I actually learned that lesson in one of my very, very early novels and it was the third novel I wrote, called the Karma Club, and it was my first YA novel and I had this scene in my head and it was just. I was so excited to write it. I was this three girls. They were going to break into this other person's house and they were going to mess with things and they were trying to exact revenge. And I was so excited and I wrote the scene. And they break in through the window and then they do their little thing and then they escape. And then I read it back I was like this is so boring. Why is this so boring?

Jessica Brody:

I didn't enjoy writing it at all and I realized it had no conflict. They were breaking in the window, there was no one home, so there was no one to hear them. Yeah, yeah, it was so easy. So then I just went back and rewrote it. It's like, oh surprise, the mom's home and the window's locked and the thing that they need to replace is actually the wrong color and they don't have that color. And like all the things I could think about and that's really fun is, what can you throw at your character to make it difficult.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and I think that's where a lot of writers have trouble, because they don't want to make things difficult. Right, I'm guilty of that too. Do you have tips for people who struggle with that? Because since you've, like, literally been in the trenches struggling with that, well now, now.

Jessica Brody:

I just love it. I think a part of it comes from wanting to make the scene easy to write. I mean, at least for me it's okay. I want to get this through the scene so I can get to the next scene and the next scene, and Putting in conflict it makes the scene a little bit harder to write. It's trickier. You have to balance more elements in the scene as opposed to just having your character go from A to B to C to D. You have to go from A to Z to D to D, you know, and you're constantly weaving. So just think, you know, think that am I avoiding conflict? Because I personally don't want to write a harder scene? And then you know, I think it's just about challenging yourself to I can do this, I can write a harder scene.

Jessica Brody:

Every time you write a scene you don't think you can write, even if it doesn't turn out the way you want it to. Every time you write something hard, it changes you as a writer and it makes you a better writer, because I guarantee, no matter how it turns out, you will learn something about yourself and about how you write. And honestly, you know, I've written 20 novels. I still, with every scene I write I learn something new. I'm like, oh, I didn't know I could do that.

Savannah Gilbo:

I think it's true that, like our imagination rises to the challenge, so we have to let that challenge exist in order to come up with the gold. And it was funny because not yesterday, the day before, I was talking to a writer who she finished her first draft. She was really adverse to any conflict, like the place her characters went to, the new world, was all about peace, so no one had conflict there. And then her character was very peaceful and all that. And we were working together as coach and writer and I kept telling her like we need conflict, right, so fast forward, eight months later she had put her novel down and she reread it and she's like I'm starting to see the purpose of conflict. And now she so like she learned that through the experience. Right, she really didn't want to, and now she's starting a new story and she's like I have so many good ideas for conflict already. So I think it's totally true.

Savannah Gilbo:

What you said is sometimes you just have to like get messy with it and try and then you'll learn something and you'll never be the same writer again, usually for the benefit. So absolutely.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah and then OK. So I'm curious what were the? I know we had one common mistake or pitfall overlap. Is there anything else that's coming to mind where you're like, oh, this is a good one we should talk about?

Jessica Brody:

You know, I think the fun and games one was was a good one. You know about thinking that it has to be all fun and it can't be, there can't be conflict. I see that one a lot. The confusion between the all is lost and the dark night of the soul that I had as well when I first started is also a common one. I'm trying to think oh, the other one.

Jessica Brody:

I hear a lot is people and this is completely grounded. Like I get this comment 100 percent Is people, particularly when they're first starting to get published. They say to me well, I can't put the catalyst at 10 percent because most agents will only read 30 pages. So if the catalyst doesn't come to page 40 or 50, like, I'm going to be sending them 30 pages of nothing. And that's when I, you know, kind of take a step back and say OK, well, let's look at what you consider, quote nothing. Like what are you filling your setup with? And maybe it's not, you know, maybe nothing and not enough is happening in the setup. So I think there is this misconception that the setup is kind of this ho hum, everyday life, nothing happens, it's all very boring. And so that we can get to the exciting stuff at 10 percent. Well, in today's day and age, sorry to say, no one's going to get to page 40 if there's nothing happening in 40 pages. Maybe decades ago, before there was TikTok and all of our distractions.

Jessica Brody:

So either your setup has to be just laid in with cool stuff, and the way I tell people to do that is one make sure that your character is pursuing something on page one which we talk about as the starting goal. Make sure that you are creating intrigue around why they want this, around why they might be flawed. I think there's some really cool things writers can do at the beginning of a story, even if none of the quote big stuff has happened, in order to draw the reader in. And that has a lot to do with a trick I call hiding the ball, which is that you don't give your reader everything right off the bat, you don't start the story going.

Jessica Brody:

Here's Mary. She has trouble with trust, she's lost, she's broken up with 10 guys. You show her in the line at the coffee shop darting out, even though she wants coffee, because there's a guy standing in line. Yeah, that opens up questions why is she darting out of the coffee shop? What happened with that guy? And anytime you can get your reader to ask questions, you get them to keep reading because they want to know the answer. So that's one I hear. A lot is just that the setup is kind of boring, and I usually challenge them then to not make it boring.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, don't let it be boring. Yeah, and I see that too, where it's kind of the same things we've been talking about. There will be scenes with no conflict, there's scenes with a lot of backstory. And just because, kind of like what you're saying, just because it's a setup, doesn't mean that we don't still want to follow the typical rules of what we need to do in all of our scenes. We need conflict, we need interiority, we need that chain of events from A to B, and that's another thing I think we can do too is like look at where we're going in that catalyst.

Savannah Gilbo:

You know what that's going to be, and then you have to kind of think backwards from there. So if you have, let's say, four to five scenes between the opening and the catalyst or whatever that number is, that's not that much time to get your character to the catalyst. So things kind of already have to be not totally perfect, and we can definitely get a glimpse of that, like you're saying. And my brain, on that example that you just shared about that she's in the coffee line and she sees her ex, my brain just keeps going Cause I'm like then she goes outside and you know she's avoiding another guy. How many guys did this girl break up with? Right so you can?

Jessica Brody:

That sounds interesting to me right, I would read it too, you know. On the other like, on the other hand, you look at high fantasies, like A Six of Crows by Lee Bardugo, and the setup is like two gangs meeting in an alley, like over, you know, over this turf war and, believe it or not, that is status quo for this character. This is what his daily life looks like, and yet we are so intrigued because we're brought into this very unique world. So from, like you know, the quote normal day of a girl who's avoiding exes to turf war in a magical fantasy city not very magical fantasy city those are status quo worlds and we can bring people into them in an interesting way that is still engaging, even though the Big event has not happened in either of those worlds.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and I think something you said is key there too, because it's not just about flashy stuff or about conflict. Again, we're I'm gonna Both Jessica and I are gonna be broken records that it all has to come back to your character. So you know, something that might not be as flashy as turf wars interesting based on the interiority a character's giving us and how they're interpreting events. So you don't always have to have something super flashy, but it does have to be personal and affect the protagonist, right, okay, so anything else like that you wanna add for Save the Cat tips that you would just share with the world. I know that's like a lot of pressure to ask, other than I'm just gonna say go get Jessica's craft books because they are my favorite. On previous episodes I broke down, you know, some of the Save the Cat Beats with examples and they were some of the most popular episodes. So I know you guys love Save the Cat. Go get Jessica's books. Fantastic, anything to add, jessica.

Jessica Brody:

No, the only thing I would add is and I'm sure you figured this out to Savannah when you were breaking down examples is that that is the quickest way to learn the method and to learn the secrets of storytelling is to break down other stories, particularly ones that you really admire, because the biggest question you can ask about a book you like is why, why did you like it? Why did the author do it this way? Why did the author make this choice? Why does is this the catalyst versus something else? Why does this affect the character so much?

Jessica Brody:

And when you start looking through stories with that lens of why like, it unlocks the story for you. And so you know people come to me all the time. They're like can you tell me what the catalyst of X, y, z book is? And I've either never heard of it, never read it or probably not gonna read it. And I'll say you know, I haven't read that one. But what's more valuable for me to tell you is for you to figure it out yourself.

Jessica Brody:

And that's not like a dismissal, it's more of an invitation, because, honestly, the only reason that I understand story the way I do is because I have broken down so many stories. I mean you see how many I've broken down in the books. I have a Save the Cat course that has a whole bunch of more examples, and at every story I break down I learned something new. Like, oh, that's a cool way to do the midpoint. I'd never thought about that. So I just invite you as well to and it doesn't have to be perfect, it doesn't have to be right, it can just be your interpretation but just putting on those glasses, those story structure glasses, and looking at stories is gonna help you understand your own.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, and I love what you said about asking why. I love asking why to everything, probably to an annoying point. But the other thing is what's great about Save the Cat is Jessica's translated it in four novelists. There's also the original Save the Cat that, if you're like I don't really want to read, you know a bunch of books and spend a bunch of time. You can do the same exercise with movies and TV shows and at least like to get your Toa and then you're probably gonna get addicted and want to dig into books. But that's a great way to learn.

Savannah Gilbo:

It's one of my favorite activities, but I'm a huge nerd. So you know, don't expect everyone to be like me and Jessica, but it's just. I was working with a romance writer one year and she was like I'm gonna watch every new Hallmark romance because she wanted to write a story like that and by the end of it she's like I've never felt so smart and like so good about my time watching TV than I did that week and it helped her unlock the story. So yeah, I think it's totally fine I love her.

Jessica Brody:

She can join our nerd club, for sure.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yeah, anybody's allowed in our nerd club, but okay, so to wrap this up, jessica, thank you so much for coming on the show. I'm so appreciative to everything you shared and I know that my audience is going to love this episode. But before I let you go, can you tell us tell us about your writing Mastery Academy? Tell us where we can find you, and I'll link to all the stuff in the show notes. Fantastic, yes.

Jessica Brody:

Writingmasterycom is my Writing Mastery Academy, so essentially, as a member, you get access to all of my online courses, as well as all the courses I've produced with other instructors. I think we're up to 13 or 14 courses now. We have courses on fast drafting, save the Cat, revision, character development, publishing, self-publishing, traditional publishing anything you could want and you get access to all of those. Plus, you get access to our monthly live webinars and all of the recorded webinars we've ever done, and our online community, which is a fantastic, super supportive group of writers who will answer questions, brainstorm with you. Do you know? We have critique groups in there, we have writing sprints in there. It's just a really fun place to hang out as a writer, and I think we have a discount for your listeners as well, which you'll put the code in the notes. If I try to remember it, I'll get it wrong.

Savannah Gilbo:

Yep, we'll put the code in the notes, but I have it right here. It's coupon code FWME. So for fiction, writing made easy, and you let me know that's going to be $20 off the annual membership to Writing Mastery Academy. So we will put all that in the show notes as well as where you can find Jessica around the internet, and we'll link to my two favorite books ever the Save the Cat Writes novel and Save the Cat Writes, a young adult novel. But thank you again, jessica, so much for being here. I loved nerding out with you about this stuff.

Jessica Brody:

Thank you, Savannah. I can't believe how fast that time went. This was super, super fun. I'm really grateful to be on.

Savannah Gilbo:

Awesome. Yeah, maybe we'll do another one someday and dig into more Save the Cat. Yes, all right, thank you so much. So that's it for today's episode. As always, thank you so much for tuning in and for showing your support. If you want to check out any of the links I mentioned in this episode, you can find them in the show notes listed in the description of each episode inside your podcast player or at savannahgilbocom forward slash podcast. If you're an Apple user, I'd really appreciate it if you took a few seconds to leave a rating and a review. Your ratings and reviews tell Apple that this is a podcast that's worth listening to and, in turn, your reviews will help this podcast get in front of more fiction writers just like you. And while you're there, go ahead and hit that follow button, because there's going to be another brand new episode next week, full of actionable tips, tools and strategies to help you become a better writer. So I'll see you next week and until then, happy writing.

Save the Cat Mistakes
Creating Conflict and Tension in Novels
Beat Sheets as Diagnostic Tool
Creating Conflict and Goals in Writing
Engaging Stories With Save the Cat
Podcast Promotion and Call to Action