Sarah’s Tool of the Month:
Brody, J. (2018) Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need. Ten Speed Press.
This month I read Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, which is a book for novelists based on a popular screenwriting book series by Blake Snyder. It’s a book primarily on story structure and gives you a template to work through to ensure your novel is progressing in a way that makes sense and that will resonate with readers.
So, based on the Save the Cat! beatsheet, she divides the book into three acts:
- Opening image.
- Theme stated
- Break into 2
- B Story
- Fun and games
- Bad guys close in.
- All is lost
- Dark night of the soul
- Break into 3
- Final Image.
Not only does it discuss the template, or ‘beat sheet’, it also divides books into genres, and as she says, these genres are ‘not your mother’s genres.’ So, not romance or fantasy or anything like that, instead she maintains that every book can be divided into ten categories based on the structure and content of the story. I decided to briefly list each of these genres, which are also chapters as she pulls apart each genre in greater detail:
- Whydunit: A mystery must be solved by the hero who may or may not be a detective, during which something shocking is revealed about the darkside of human nature.
- Rites of Passage: A hero must endure pain and torment brought about by life’s common challenges.
- Institutionalized: A hero enters or is already entrenched inside a particular group, institution, establishment or family and must make a choice to join, escape or destroy it.
- Superhero: An extraordinary hero finds themselves in an ordinary world and must come to terms with being special or destined for greatness.
- Dude with a problem: An innocent, ordinary hero finds themselves in the midst of extraordinary circumstances and must rise to the challenge.
- Fool Triumphant: An underestimated, underdog hero is pitted against some kind of ‘establishment’ and proves a hidden worth to society.
- Buddy Love: A hero is transformed by meeting someone else, including (but not limited to) love stories, friendship stories, and pet stories.
- Out of the bottle: An ordinary hero is temporarily touched by magic, usually involving a wish fulfilled or a curse bestowed, and the hero learns an important lesson about appreciating and making the most of reality.
- Golden Fleece: A hero or group goes on a road trip of some type, even if there’s no actual road, in search of one thing and winds up discovering something else—themselves.
- Monster in the house: A hero, or group of heroes, must overcome some kind of monster (supernatural or not) in some kind of enclosed setting or limited circumstances, and someone is usually responsible for bringing the monster into being.
Using these genres and the beat sheet, Jessica Brody goes into depth with examples from many best-selling books to show how they fit into a genre and into the beat sheet, which reveals how each story ‘works’ and hooks readers in. Lastly, she also explains towards the end of the book how to pitch your novel using elements from the beat sheet which can make life so much easier when trying to create a catchy logline or blurb!
I found this very interesting to read and the narration through the book was very bright and energetic. While some authors may find this ‘formulaic’ I have to agree with her that I think there are certain elements that are found in every decent book, and while you shouldn’t close yourself in or box yourself trying to get everything exactly perfect and on point, these elements do have to be there for the book to ‘work.’ The genres I wasn’t as sure on, but she says it is quite common for books to be able to fit into a couple of genres, and not everything is going to fit absolutely perfectly. She does do a good job overall in creating beatsheets and matching the genres to well-known books, so I think there is definitely something there. As much as I’ve talked about it, I’ve really only scratched the surface of the info she provides in the book so I highly recommend reading this one!
Ashley’s Tool of the Month:
Elsdon, L. (2020). The Rise of Strong Female Characters in YA Fantasy. YA Hotline, (112). https://ojs.library.dal.ca/YAHS/article/view/10294.
Introduction: Elsdon provided a description of fantasy, saying that magic, mythical creatures and adventure come to mind. The overarching theme critics use to define fantasy is literature of or about the “impossible”. Earliest form of fantasy is found in folklore, fairy tales and myth and shows the idea of escapism from our real world has always been craved by humankind. Many key elements of fantasy (morality, the hero’s journey and the presence of the impossible) are directly derived from folklore and fairy tales.
Another common trope is the brave, handsome prince and the beautiful, helpless maiden that have made the jump from fairy tales to fantasy. Historically, Elsdon says, fantasy was the domain of masculinity and rarely included female characters (if there were some, they were fairly two-dimensional and only served the purpose of the male protagonists).
This historic viewpoint is even present in a number of more recent YA fantasy books: Harry Potter series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Secrets of the Immortal series, and importantly, Twilight (paranormal fantasy). Books that followed Twilight all had the same type of female protagonist: two dimensional and reactionary. When analyzing Bella’s character, it was clear that despite being a protagonist secondary characters shaped her and her decisions. Elsdon thought that “female readers might reject Bella and feel better about themselves because, in comparison, they have more defined personalities and interests.”
Not long after Twilight, a massive shift in female protagonists occurred. Elsdon says, “This can be seen in books such as “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins and “Divergent” by Veronica Roth. Girls like Katniss and Tris were tough and rejected anything too feminine. They crushed gender stereotypes and ate girls like Bella Swan for breakfast. They didn’t need a man to give them value (but there were love interests, regardless).” But there was (and is) still room for improvement.
Physical strength is not enough to make a strong female character. Accurate representations of women in fantasy are now desired – well-rounded, multifaceted, realistic emotions, have both strengths and weaknesses. There has been a significant change in this direction.
Elsdon uses examples of Rey in Star Wars, Celaena from Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas, and updated Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. Then other films like Disney’s Brave (my rangers love this movie) and Moana.