I'm talking about Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. This book is written for screenwriters but applies to novelists. Essentially, Blake gives us a logical way to look at the drama of a plot and keep your story on track. I don't do anything now without "beating it out"-- that's the lingo for what happens to you after you read this book.
The essence of Save the Cat is Snyder's Beat Sheet, which is 15 points along your story that keeps your "beats" in line. You can take a look at sample beat sheets here. But where they really start making sense is when you watch well-written movies. Well-written movies almost always follow the 15 beats to the T. (Or B, if you will.) Some of the best movies with good, solid beats are:
- Star Wars
- Beverly Hills Cop (thanks to commenter Handy Man Handy Woman!)
- Ocean's Eleven (2001 version)
- Die Hard
- When Harry Met Sally (my personal fav, and this is a great example)
Screenwriting Wiki, which is dedicated to using Snyder's beats for movies. You can also get Snyder's follow up book, Save the Cat at the Movies, which is well worth it.
One of the things Save the Cat does for you is help you keep going when you've hit sticking points, and it helps you climb out of plotting holes, too. It also (for me, anyway) ensures that you have an interesting story as opposed to good bits with saggy parts--or even slightly saggy parts.
After you read Save the Cat and start understanding how the 15 beats hold up the structure of a story, you'll start noticing the beats in every story you read. Or the lack of them in some cases, I'm sure.
One of the things I wanted to address with this post (you see why I avoided it? Already it's long because I knew I'd be gushing over the book in general!) is that in Snyder's 15 beats, the first four consist of:
1. Opening Image (really applies mostly to films but can easily adapt to the first few lines of a novel)
2. The set up
3. The theme
4. The catalyst
According to Snyder you've got 15-20 pages of set up before you get to the catalyst. And while that's a completely fine way to do it, in novels you often have the catalyst right in the opening chapter. It's also called the Inciting Incident (which author Janice Hardy wrote about for me last year here). You don't have to let 50 pages go by before you get to your catalyst/inciting incident. Sometimes you can do it right up front. But as Janice said in her post, you need to do it somewhere in the first 30-50 pages.
Once you start understanding how the beats work and what they apply to, you'll notice them in every story you read.
Have you read Save the Cat? Has it worked for you? If you haven't read it, will you read it now?