How to Plot: What I’ve Learned So Far

Writer’s block is a thing. I’ve been I know this because I’ve been suffering from it for a couple of years now. If I can force myself to write, I sit down in front of my laptop, and… nothing. Absolutely nothing. Or worse, it’s a lot of words of nothing.

I try not to think about Brandon Sanderson’s four book pandemic. Like he says, we all dealt with the Pandemic stress in our own ways.

So, lieu of writing, I decided to work on the craft of writing. Take some classes, read some books, do some practice exercises, the whole bit. Plotting was particularly important to me, because all my rejection letters tell me my stories all lack defined plots.

Eh, I can’t get mad at the truth. Plotting is hard.

Then I met Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.

Save the Cat is pretty well-established, but for those unfamiliar, it could also be titled Screenplay Plotting for Dummies. Its premise is simple: all stories need their hero to have a “save the cat” moment. Synder puts it like this:

Because liking the person we go on a journey with is the single most important element in drawing us into the story.

Save the Cat by Blake Synder – Introduction

Mr. Synder defines the Save the Cat scene as one “where we meet the hero and the hero does something–like saving a cat–that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him.”

One obvious example of the Save the Cat moment is in the first season of The Mandalorian. In the first episode, the Mandalorian teams up with IG-11 to divide the reward on the bounty.

Together, they plow their way through the guards. But the defining moment comes when they enter the child’s room.

IG-11 pulls out his blaster to finish the job as it was assigned to him–to kill the child. That’s when Mando switches from bounty hunter to protector by drawing his blaster and blowing IG-11 to bits. The scene ends with the iconic image of Mando holding out his hand, and the child reaching for it.

Mando’s saving the cat– I mean, the child… I mean, Baby Yoda… I mean Grogu…

This action defines the Mandalorian’s character for us. It makes us like him. As Mr. Synder eloquently puts it, “I’ll go anywhere he takes me now, and you know what else? I’ll be rooting to see him win.”

Now, like me, you may be thinking, yeah, well, I like my heros anti-heroic. For example, in my FlyGirl world, the first-person narrator Siobhan is known for her erratic (and often violent) behavior. She’s not supposed to be likable! I wanted to play her against the trope Bella Swann-esque protagonist. The nice, passive 40-year-old teenager who doesn’t mind if an old man watches her sleep.

Okay, I confess. I liked this story. I know. I… know.

But as milquetoast as Bella Swann is, she not only carried a four-book publishing contract but she also spawned five major motion pictures.

As for Siobhan… well, she’s still freely available on Wattpad.

So maybe Mr. Synder has a point.

I imagine his response to me would be similar to what he had to say about the poorly received Lara Croft 2 (a movie I did not see, by the way):

I don’t like the Lara Croft character. Why would I? She’s cold and humorless…The people who produced this film think they can get you to like her by making her cool.

Save the Cat by Blake Synder – Introduction

I never thought of my character as cold or humorless, but I do think I emphasized her violence over her compassion. She’s probably a bit too off-putting to be truly likable. I also think her save the cat moment comes way too late in the story for it to be a defining character moment. Saving the cat should take place within the first 10%, especially if your protagonist is a bit spicier than most.

You can find Blake Synder’s Save the Cat on Amazon. Check out the Save the Cat writer’s platform for beat sheets, examples, tutorials, classes, and more.