Tag Archives | Save the Cat

THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE (Act I) or how to make a BIG impact!

Last Monday, most of you came to the conclusion that based on the description and plot that THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE is not high concept. I can see your point. But if you want to write or understand how to make a low concept book have high impact, then keep reading.

Act I

Opening Image: (the before snapshot of the protagonist)

I fell in love with this opening. Lennie is sitting with her Gram and her Uncle, known as Big, as they contemplate Lennie’s emotional health and her future based on a plant. The plant, which has always been “connected” to Lennie has black spots and is quite sickly.

You’d think the opening would show Lennie’s life before Bailey died, but it starts four weeks after. So how is this the before snapshot? Well, it’s her life without Bailey before things start changing and getting out of control.

Theme stated: (What is the story really about?)

The plant says it all. This story is about survival and grieving. Will the plant survive? Which really represents Lennie. Will she make it through this experience a survivor?

In this opening, several times over, Gram and Big ask if the plant is going to recover.


Because this is more literary and character driven we are absolutely drenched in Lennie on every page. Every chapter in Act I shows us a different aspect of her life and her troubled relationships.


Lennie’s goal is to get through every day and face the challenges of how grief has changed all her relationships.


The stakes are extremely high for Lennie. It’s about the survival of her as a person, living, without her sister. She might not be saving the world or fighting a demon king, but to me, the stakes are just as high as if she were.

Six things that need fixing:

  1. Lennie’s soured relationship with her best friend, Sarah.
  2. Lennie sits in the closet, wearing her sister’s clothes, to grieve.
  3. Lennie doesn’t talk to her Gram anymore, refusing teatime or talks.
  4. Lennie’s lack of passion when playing the clarinet.
  5. Her bedroom, she shared with Bailey, has not changed, even down to Bailey’s dirty laundry.
  6. Lennie writes poetry and leaves the pages in random places around town.
  7. She’s been finding a reprieve from her grief while kissing Bailey’s boyfriend, Toby.

Catalyst: (the game-changing moment)

For me, the catalyst occurs in chapter 6, when Joe, new student and band mate, asks if they can play their instruments together. At this point, Lennie says no. But it gets her thinking. It symbolizes her unwillingness to let go of her grief, or even try. But we learn the problem stems to before Bailey’s death. Lennie has been struggling with a lack of passion in her music for over a year. So, a fellow talented musician asking her to play is a big deal. Almost as big, or bigger (in a personal way), than Frodo being asked to be the ring bearer and carry the ring to Mordor.

Debate: (asks some kind of question of the main character)

Okay, I’m going to be honest. I found it easier to find the debate in this character-driven story than I have some of the plot-driven stories. And maybe that’s because so much is being asked of Lennie that finding a debate is like plucking grapes off the vine.

Is she going to start living life again? But it is represented by one question. Joe keeps asking her to play with him, and she keeps saying no. When is she going to play again? When is she going to let go of the past?

At the end of Act I, Lennie is trying to pack up her sister’s stuff, but she’s having a hard time. Her and Toby go for a walk and share another emotional kiss. But it’s a kiss that develops from thinking about her sister and questioning how can the world go on? It’s a big moment. A dark moment.

And so ends, Act I.

Question: Do you think the only reason this book is high impact is because it deals with life and death and is more character driven? Have you read a high concept plot driven book with such impact?

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Characters and instant conflict. Let’s talk.

At times, my life is full of conflict. I struggle to be the best mom possible when two of my kids are exactly like me, that is, a bit strong willed and determined.

My life would be so much easier if I was one of those moms who had patience and love bubbling over like a fountain in some romantic foreign city when their son spills the grape juice from his Flavor Ice onto the newish couch when he knows he’s not supposed to eat in there and it’s now a permanent stain.

Or when that same son yells out early in the morning on a Saturday that he broke the faucet, and everyone is sleeping in or trying to on the one day of the week they can.

Let me tell you, instant conflict.

Does your character offer the most conflict for the situation? That question comes up in SAVE THE CAT. In other words, the main character should be the worst person for the job, because for obvious reasons, there is instant conflict. And a lot of times, adds humor.

Here are some examples from books and movies:

Romancing the Stone: Novelist with no real adventure experience goes off on a crazy adventure with the man of her dreams.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns: Extremely overweight princess with a major carb addiction is born with the Godstone, which means she is meant for greatness.

Harry Potter: Boy with absolutely no wizarding power or experience needs to take down the most evil wizard ever.

Anna and the French Kiss: Anna is sent to a boarding in school in Paris but would much rather be at home in her safe world.

I’d Tell You I love You But Then I’d Have To Kill You: Cammie Morgan falls in love with a boy in town, except she’s been trained to be a spy and knowing 40 languages doesn’t prepare her for her first major crush.

Just think how different these stories would be if the character had been “perfect” for the story.

This is just one method of introducing conflict to a story and starting the emotional arc. I’ve looked and there are plenty of high concept and low concept books that don’t use this method and they are still extremely successful.

Have you ever thought about crafting your character to be the worst possible one for the role? And is there anyway to lift a grape juice stain from a couch? Just askin’.

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How to find practical application power for your writing? Plot Busters.

What is Plot Busters?

Plot Busters is my attempt to strengthen my writing by studying the structure of published novels.

But I have a secret.

Some of you may think I created Plot Busters because I felt the innate desire to share all my expertise.

Not really. I’m not an expert. I don’t pretend to be.

In fact, looking back on my earlier Plot Buster posts, I realize I might break them down differently today. That’s how much I’ve learned doing this.

I am on a journey to become a better writer, and I knew I needed to study published novels to do it. I’d read the craft books, but I found them hard to apply. I had too much head knowledge and not enough practical application power.

My first attempts at it over a year ago were pretty pitiful. I had some turning points and the climax but I wasn’t sure how to break down each act. I’d written a middle grade ghost story that I absolutely loved. I wanted to rewrite it but I knew it was lacking structure.

Then I read Save the Cat and I loved how Blake Snyder broke down structure. So I started breaking down books. You can use many different methods to break down stories. The nine point grid (didn’t work for me), five acts, four acts, 8 sequences, three acts, hero’s journey – just to name a few. Find one that works for you.

My studies provided answers but also raised questions.

  • Do books have to follow structure?
  • When’s the best time to be flexible with structure?
  • Is it only high concept stories fit for film that work with structure?
  • Is there a difference in structure with middle grade and young adult books?
  • Is there a difference in structure with character driven vs plot driven books?
  • Do my favorite books follow structure or not?
  • Could some best sellers possibly have been even better with stronger structure?
  • Can strong writing, voice or a compelling hook make up for a weak structure?

So many questions. And I wanted answers.

Want to learn with me? Every Monday. Here. Plot Busters. Some books we’ll spend a month with and others one day.

Starting next week, we’re looking at THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, a young adult novel by Jandy Nelson. Because I was pretty sure a character driven book like that wouldn’t have a strong structure.

What do you think? Do character driven more literary books have strong structure?

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Plot Busters – Three Tips from TANGLED

1. A debate scene that starts in Act I and doesn’t end until The End.

In Act I, Blake suggests that the main character question a decision. This debate goes on until the Act I climax where he/she makes the decision and reaches the point of no return. The debate is over. Or maybe not.

After seeing the floating lights and then meeting Flinn, Rapunzel has to decide whether to trust him and whether or not she should leave the tower. Small moments build up to her decision. But when Mother Gothal shuts Rapunzel down and tells her she will never leave, Rapunzel reaches that point.

She lies about Flinn. She decides to trust Flinn or at least make a deal with him. And she decides to leave the tower.

But the screenwriters didn’t leave it at that. They continued the debate. From the slight pause before Rapunzel is willing to touch her feet to the grass to the hesitation before using her hair to save their lives. And then at the end, the debate returns in full force when Rapunzel believes Flinn has abandoned her.

  • Does your debate continue through out the entire story?
  • How can you show moments of doubt before your character makes a major decision?
  • And can you show why he/she overcomes those doubts and makes the decision?

2. Following through with the Promise of the Premise.

That’s what our friend Blake refers to as Fun and Games during the first part of Act II. It’s why people want to read your book. What kind of story will your title, cover, and blurb convey? If you were to have a movie poster of your story – what would be on it? That’s what you want to give your readers. Or they’ll end up disappointed.

Looking at the poster for TANGLED with Flinn holding a fry pan and Rapunzel standing in front of him wielding her hair, I expected a fun story with great action and some great hair tricks.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

  • Do you follow through with the promise of your premise?
  • Look at the first half of your Act II to find out. (Though Rapunzel wielded her hair like a lasso through out the entire movie!)

3. A smart antagonist (Bad Guys Close in – second half of Act II)

Readers don’t respect a stupid villain. Which means their respect for the protagonist drops too when he/she overcomes the stupid villain. As a reader, I crave the smart, well-rounded villain. I love when I understand the villain’s perspective and could even see the story from his/her pov. Now, I’m not going to say that I could understand Mother Gothal’s pov. She was selfish and wanted to stay young and beautiful. I’m not saying she couldn’t have been more three-dimensional.

But I loved her tactics.

She played with Rapunzel’s mind. Mother Gothal could have just captured Rapunzel and brought her back to the tower. But no. She wanted Rapunzel to come back on her own, willingly. So she challenged Rapunzel, stating Flinn would leave her once he had the stolen crown back in his thieving paws. Then Mother Gothal went one step further and made sure that happened or that Rapunzel believed it to happen. And Rapunzel went willingingly.

  • How does your villain stop your protagonist?
  • What does he/she do behind the scenes?

Check out Stina’s blog for her breakdown of TANGLED Part Two!

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Plot Busters – TANGLED breakdown in 15 sentences!

Scroll down for the link to Plot Busters – Tangled (part 2)

I usually only do one Plot Busters breakdown a month but Stina and I decided to team up and post together about the movie, TANGLED. I used Blake Snyder’s beat sheet from Save the Cat. And she used Emotional Structure: Creating The Story Beneath the Plot. A Writer’s Screen Guide by Peter Dunne. Check her post out too!

This time I’m going to describe each beat with only sentence. And then I have a challenge for you at the end. Okay? Let’s get started.

1. Opening Image:

Through narration we learn about the magical flower, Mother Gothal (the witch) and how Rapunzel got her wicked cool magical hair.

2. Theme stated:

(Okay, I watched the movie and took notes with six kids in the room, 3 of whom I was babysitting. I forgot to watch out for the stated theme. And the movie left with the kids, so I couldn’t rewatch it. Sorry.) But I’d say one of the themes is courage to follow your dreams.

3. Set-up

Rapunzel wants to leave the tower and see the floating lights but Mother Gothal says no; and as the viewer we know all the big stakes and implications of her goal, even if she doesn’t yet.

4. Catalyst

Flinn, who stole the royal crown, runs away and climbs Rapunzel’s tower to hide.

5. Debate

Rapunzel must decide whether to trust Flinn and leave the tower. (Awesome debate scenes.)

6. Break into Two (Act II that is)

Rapunzel leaves the tower, and through song, experiences the outside world for the first time. (Sounds cheesy, but I loved it.)

7. B Story (love story or subplot)

After leaving the tower, Flinn and Rapunzel learn to trust each other.

8. Fun and Games

Rapunzel and Flinn stop at a bar filled with ruffians and Rapunzel wins them over with her sweet ways; and using her hair, she saves her and Flinn from soldiers.

9. Midpoint

With soldiers chasing them, Rapunzel and Flinn run through tunnels and escape a flooding dam only to be trapped in a cave where Rapunzel reveals the magical qualities of her hair to save them.

10. Bad guys close in

Mother Gothal tries to convince Rapunzel that Flinn doesn’t like her and challenges her to give Flinn the stolen crown as a test whether he’ll stick around or not.

11. All is lost

Mother Gothal “rescues” Rapunzel from Flinn’s old thieving buddies and reveals Flinn sailing off without her and with the stolen crown.

12. Dark night of the soul

Back in the tower, Rapunzel remembers her parents and that she is a princess so she decides to confront Mother Gothal. (This was the weakest part of the movie for me. Babies can’t remember their parents! Not believable.)

13. Break into Three (as in Act III)

In her ultimate act of courage, Rapunzel confronts Mother Gothal with the truth.

14. Finale (climax)

When Flinn climbs the tower to save Rapunzel, both of them choose the road of self sacrifice to defeat Mother Gothal. (To really describe what happened in the climax would either require three sentences or a bunch of semi-colons.)

15. Final Image

Through narration, we see Rapunzel reaching her dream, reunited with her parents and together with Flinn.

Phew. It’s hard at times to sum up entire scenes with one sentence. But it helps with focus and figuring out what your scenes are really about. And you’ve got to check out a more thorough version of TANGLED at Blake Snyder’s website! I didn’t notice it until I went to link to his site. And I didn’t change any of my answers, and some of them are different too! Check it out.

So, here’s my challenge: Spend an hour and fill out this 15-point beat sheet with your own current wip or a story you are plotting. One sentence per beat! If you combine the 15 sentences you’d have the most concise synopsis ever!  With room to add details.

Read Part 2 – Three tips from TANGLED

What part of structure do you struggle with the most?

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