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Before You Save That Cat, all Willy Nilly...

Banes at 12:00AM, April 6, 2023

Since I first read it, the book “Save The Cat!” has been incredibly useful to me as far as thinking about stories, outlining them, and finishing them. It's a fun way to approach structure, and applies to a LOT of mainstream stories.

It's become an essential textbook in mainstream filmmaking, and lately I've seen many novelists sing its praises as well.

It's the structure book I recommend, and when I use it, my stories come out better.

Following it slavishly, like with any structure book, or letting it get in the way is a trap I've fallen into and it's one to look out for. Hammering some stories into the “proper shape” could ruin them. Sometimes Act One is NOT 25% of the story. It can be shorter, or longer. Sometimes there is no character arc for the main character (we've talked about that before). Sometimes the Protagonist does NOT do something heroic or kind in the beginning to make them likable (which is what the “Save the Cat” title refers to).

There is some play between structure/keeping things moving in a story, and writing something authentic from your mind and experience. Sometimes there's a LOT of room to “break the rules” - and sometimes following them too robotically can make it feel pointless or kill your excitement for your idea.

I think webcomics in particular are much more free in this way - it can be just for you, and whoever happens to find and like it. There isn't the financial burden of a movie or TV show.

Obvious stuff, but something I found worthy enough anyway.

Honestly, I get lazy and ignore structure in my comics and it's not the best for me - but I think a little more “playing” serves a story very very well. But overall, I think I'm a structure guy. How about you?

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Ozoneocean at 7:59AM, April 7, 2023

The Banes method is certainly an interesting story writing technique! It can also help you get pregnant

DylanTale Comics at 6:55AM, April 7, 2023

@dragonsong12 I can definitely relate with how I did Set 1 vs. Set 2 of my comic. Set 1 was all over the place whereas Sets 2 AND 3 focus on a certain aspect, with Set 2 focusing on how the events of Chapter 6 impacted the entire comic and with Set 3 focusing on the multiverse. Heck, I already have ideas of the direction that I want to take Set 4 in.

marcorossi at 12:44AM, April 7, 2023

For Hushicho: this is a page about the book with various reviews, some of then negative; I will not directly link to a shop but you can google it easily:

dragonsong12 at 7:40PM, April 6, 2023

I think both the structure and playing with it are important. I think it's always best to learn proper structure first though, as I do firmly believe you have to understand a rule before you can meaningfully break it. One of my early comics didn't really have much in the way of structure, I just sort of did whatever I felt like, and while there's some interesting, unique scenes in it, overall it's just a bit of a mess. The sequel story I approached a bit more conventionally and with more structure, and I found that to not only make the storytelling a bit easier, but allows me to make the choice of when to break free rather than just doing it out of ignorance. It's been a much more enjoyable experience working on it because of this. But as you said, that's what works for me and may not apply to everyone.

hushicho at 3:42PM, April 6, 2023

It may be helpful for people coming into this, as I am, without any exposure to whatever you're talking about. If you could mention perhaps a title and author succinctly together (or even, in this day and age of the internet, add in a URL for a listing on a shop), I'm sure it will be very helpful to those interested in learning more.

Banes at 11:48AM, April 6, 2023

@Dylan Tale Comics - That sounds really cool actually, and personally I don't mind referencing Star Wars. I have to resist over-referencing it all the time (including in this article). They say delivering on a story is "giving the audience what they expect, in a way they DON'T expect." It's tricky but it makes for stories that can stay with us for years after we read or watch them! A Protagonist who defeats the forces against them but doesn't personally win - that sounds great, and there are stories that strike that note. It's quite powerful!

DylanTale Comics at 9:13AM, April 6, 2023

Whilst reading this, a good example that came to mind was when you expect the protagonist to win, but they don't. Whether it's making that bold sacrifice or even "I don't have to win, we both just have to lose", I think having a structure is important, but breaking the mold can also be a well-placed move. In my eyes, an unexpectedly epic beginning, middle, and/or end can REALLY make that story memorable. I know I reference Star Wars a lot (forgive me for doing so again), but seriously, Star Wars Rebels is a great example of how to set up a structure that also breaks the mold. At the end of the series, the MC pulled a huge victory for his home planet, but he didn't win. He just made sure that the antagonist was defeated and that he stayed defeated. Once the MC pulled him away into an unknown region of space, the antagonist's armada melted away, bringing one hell of a victory for the rebels. That show and its MC will always stick out to me because of how the creators set it all up.

Banes at 7:21AM, April 6, 2023

@marcorossi - As far as using Save the Cat for episodic TV, or longer-form novels or series, I think that's a good point. The writer of STC says this structure can still exist in a season of TV, or an episode, or even individual scenes, or 30 second commercials! But sometimes it's not there. In sprawling novels, it's probably not there, or is not what drives the novel. I would say it's still a handy tool, but the writer would have to have a sense for how to use it, and when NOT to use it. The 'story circle' by Dan Harmon sounds like a better structure template for episodic TV shows, which is how he uses it. I've tried using it but don't have a great feel for it yet.

Banes at 7:14AM, April 6, 2023

@marcorossi - Haha... "My Story Can Beat Up Your Story" is a cool title. I don't think I've read that one but I'm intrigued about the 8 character roles. That actually does sound familiar, and there's a good chance the D&D Characters WERE based on those roles. If you're interested in writing some Newspost let me know - you'd have plenty of interesting stuff to say!

Banes at 7:10AM, April 6, 2023

@marcorossi - Those kittens must be rescued; it's just what heroes have to do. That's a great insight on how structure/template books like this can be used or misused. It fits certain types of stories very well; for others it might be useful in certain areas but not others. I think many of us find it tempting to use this kind of book as a paint-by-numbers screenplay/story creator. It really doesn't work that way as far as making good, compelling stories.

Banes at 6:57AM, April 6, 2023

@Ironscarf - Thanks by the way! Haha - these cats are from my Patreon comic - though this scene hasn't happened yet. It'll make its way to the Duck eventually I'm sure!

Banes at 6:56AM, April 6, 2023

@Ironscarf - It's useful indeed! I liked "Story" a lot - I don't think I've finished the book (it's big!), but have dug into it a few times over the years and liked it a lot. It can be tough to stick with a structure plan; maybe things need to be more fluid, at least at some stages of the writing process. Going back and forth a bit between structure and more brainstorming/mind wandering seems to be how it goes for me. My stories come out better when there're some serious structure efforts during outlining. Otherwise I tend to hit a wall around the midpoint!

Banes at 6:50AM, April 6, 2023

@dpat - Oh, that might be where the expression actually came from! I agree, and in my jumble of ideas for this post, I was thinking of something about a story 'getting to the point' and setting up the premise quickly and clearly, vs a slower, more character-world building-atmosphere creating kind of approach. I'm a fan of getting to it for the sake of the reader (not that I don't have sluggish first acts all the time...). As a reader I prefer a story that gets to it as well. Exceptions exist though!

marcorossi at 4:44AM, April 6, 2023

Changing the subject a bit (I'm trying to suggest a subject for a future blog post, eh) recently I watched the new D&D movie, and later I realised that all the characters in the movie can be seen as the 8 character roles that are presented in "Dramatica" (but that I first read in the "My Story Can Beat Up Your Story!" book, that is totally ripping them off from Dramatica, sorry pal a footnote that refers to dramatica isn't enough for hiding the ripoff). Sometimes when I watch movies I rcognize schemes that I read in this kind of books, and this sorta ruins the experience.

marcorossi at 4:39AM, April 6, 2023

The second limit, that isn't really a limit but is still important, is that you should first have your own conent/general idea of story and characters, and then you can use StC or similar models to put your story in order, see where there are holes, etc. But you shouldn't use the "structure" as if it was a plot, with the hero doing the hero, the love interest doing the love interest, and the villain doing the villain. To use an analogy, the content is like the meat, the structure is like the sausage machine, and the final story is like the sausage: the sausage machine is useful to process the meat but people should never eat pieces of it. In the same way "structure" is useful to put your content in order but it cannot/should not ever substitute the content.

marcorossi at 4:34AM, April 6, 2023

There are two big limits in StC, and the first is that it is a structure that was tought for movies, and earlier for theater (as it largely depends on the earlier aristotelian three act structure). Movies and theater dramas are short, self concluded, usually single episode stories, whereas soap operas, modern TV series, long novels like war and peace or LoTR, and epic poetry like the Odissey or the Iliad are long form stuff that can be subdivided (more or less) in shorter episodes. For example the Tom Bombadil part in Lotr could be cut off from the whole story of LoTR and be a single episode in itself, and so could the fight with Shelob, and so could Odysseus VS the cyclop. StC is not good for these longform stuff, it assumes that there is a single episode, single focus story; this is useful because it helps the writer to avoid these excess addition, but the writer has to know this and accept that s/he is writing a single episode story (or find some way around it).

marcorossi at 4:28AM, April 6, 2023

Well I would totally save those two kittens, entirely for altruistic reasons. I had some problems with my first webcomic and therefore I read Save The cat (plus other books), and both my second webcomic and the third one (that I'm currently close to finish) follow the StC beatsheet, and the genral idea of having the story about the "arch" of the protagonist. For me it was really useful, but I think that for other people it could be quite bad, so I'll explain my opinion in next comment.

Ironscarf at 4:05AM, April 6, 2023

I tend to visualise scenes and write that way, so this has been very useful in bringing them all together and seeing the bigger picture/structure. There's also Robert Mckee,s book 'Story', which is very good. I have tried writing strictly to a set structure, but it was more of a useful exercise than something I could stick with. Great Post and where can I read the story behind this image?

dpat57 at 12:19AM, April 6, 2023

Nod nod, the template or beat sheet is flexible, the inciting incident/catalyst doesn't have to happen *exactly* on page 12, etc. But audiences these days want things to happen faster (I know I do! I have no patience or chill) so I try to land running. I remember buying a "How To Write For Television" book in the early '70s (these were optimistic days, I never wrote for TV) and the author advised: If you're writing a TV show for children, and a ship is sinking, *save the cat.* I always remembered that.

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