Today’s tip specifically focuses on one of the more popular ways a creative person can plan ideas into a form of story-arc structure before the writing process begins. There are many ways one can outline; from the roman numeral traditional model taught in elementary school, to cloud mapping, and even brain mapping software.
This method is known as “Save The Cat,” or “Blank Check,” since screenwriters and Hollywood use this formula in many movies and screenplays. I simply call it “The Cat Method.” Blake Synder, the brilliant author of the book “Save the Cat,” and the screenwriter for movies such as “Blank Check” and “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!” heralded as one of Hollywood’s leading creative screenwriter.
The main idea behind the cat method of outlining isn’t entirely delving deep into the details of each chapter and scene, instead it plants a focal point for specific markers that trigger when things within the story happen. This is a great way for new or beginning authors to focus their story into conflict/story/arc/act models, and the best part about the method is it’s easily interchangeable as the story progresses without a huge change within the overall arc.
The Cat Method follows 15 simple steps; each one containing a “Beat” to signify what section or part of the story has the main elements from the individual steps. And you’ll notice a mathematical or circular rotation to how these steps rotate within themselves – a perfect blend for what happens with your own story. This doesn’t mean make 15 chapters, this simply means write your story as you would, but dedicate each beat in the cat method to fully fleshing out the entire beat to make sure the reader understands the purpose.
1. The Opening Image: The powerful opening image to hook the viewer/reader. It sets the tone, overlays the genre, and gives the feeling of normalcy – which will soon be demolished by the arc of the story itself.
2. Theme Stated: A character outright states what the plot is about in a grand theme of ultimate foreshadowing, and in many of the best practices, this is not the main character. The main character or protagonist must grow or endure the journey before understanding what this means.
3. Set-up: The world unfolds before the readers’ eyes, the main characters introduced (including many antagonists who may not start off as bad,) and further states the normalcy to disrupt the main conflict for which comes next.
4. The Main Catalyst: This is the wake-up call. This part causes the main character(s) to take action and move out of the set-up phase to stir more conflict. This is a great place to introduce more foreshadowing.
5. Debating with Reality: The main character(s) do not know what to do yet. They still cling to their belief of reality and normalcy despite the world around them changing. Self-doubt, conflicting reluctance, and forced resolution make them decide an (often terrible) option for moving forward.
6. Breaks into two: The end of Act 1. The main character(s) leave the broken world of normalcy behind and the main journey begins. This is usually when something catastrophic happens.
7. B Story: The start of the secondary or sub-plot. It can be a love story or something underlying where additional characters come in to join the journey or help the characters with the central plot as a side-plot. A common rule of thumb is each character and plot offers more than two reasons to exist within the story.
8. Fun and Games: The characters see setbacks from conflicts and learn how to overcome them. They learn about their powers or gifts or learn to trust outside of their comfort zone. This is where the main characters stretch their legs and the reader learns and understands more about the character in a personal level through trial and error.
9. Midpoint: All the stakes raise. The second-highest conflict occurs in the plot where all hope is almost lost, but barely.
10. Bad Guys Close In: Things often get worse. The characters become trapped, maimed, captured, stripped of powers, etc. This is where usually one of them says, “Well, things can’t get much worse.”
11. The Things Got Worse: The characters are at their lowest point. The only possible way to overcome this point is a moment of metaphysical death to make way for future rebirth.
12. Dark Night of the Soul: The Second turning point. The main realization of what has happened and what the characters have lost during the struggle and journey. This is also where the main debate whether to push on or give up exists.
13. Break into Three: End of Act 2: The characters decide one last hurrah to give it another go thanks to the help of friends and realization. Believing in new hope and guidance gives the characters courage to push forward and try something new to help the main cause.
14. Finale: The character has found something new, such as an outlook, knowledge, a weapon of ultimate power, or whatever. They have transformed it into themselves and linked it back to the theme to complete the arc.
15. Final Scene: The last scene(s) show the change in the characters and world, as juxtaposition against the opening scene for the main contrast and give the story closure for all the components involved. End of Act 3.
It does help to have at least the beginning and ending of the story already known, as well as who the main characters are in the plot. Another good tip for new writers (and honestly some old ones too:) Don’t be afraid to drop parts of your outline and start over if your characters are taking your story in a different direction than what you planned – IF, and only IF, that direction is better than what you had in your outline. There isn’t a single story I’ve written where at least part of the outline wasn’t scrapped because the characters used me as a conduit for telling their own twisted tale.
See y’all tomorrow!