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Is the new Save the Cat Software beginner-friendly?
This software is based on Blake Snyder's best-selling book Save the Cat! and is widely talked about within the writing community, but is it worth the money to buy or worth the time to learn if you're just starting out with writing?
I can save you some time right now and let you know that the answer depends on your writing style. If you are more of a pantser, that is if you are the type of writer who prefers to freestyle and see where it takes you with no planning ahead of time, you will likely find the new Save the Cat software to be tedious. On the other hand, if you're one of those people who are against beat sheets or following a predefined story structure, you probably won't get much enjoyment out of Save the Cat!
However, if you like to have at least some plan, then the new Save the Cat software might just be exactly what you need.
But let's dig in a little deeper and find out once and for all if the new Save the Cat Software is beginner-friendly and, more importantly, is it worth the cost?
What is Save the Cat!?
Save the Cat! is a (rightfully) popular series by Blake Snyder that teaches how to break down a screenplay into 15 beats -- or essential plot points. It's based on the premise that the audience should start liking the story's hero from the first moment they see them -- which is established by seeing the hero doing something nice (like, say, saving a cat) right away.
Makes sense, right? You see someone doing something nice and it's a lot easier to root for that person later on when they're fighting to overcome bigger obstacles. It also provides a contrast to the story's villain, whom you've probably not seen doing something nice and therefore you're likely less attached (even if they haven't exactly done something mean, yet).
The series itself was designed for screenwriters and movies. For novelists who wanted to use the same beats, they had to alter it a bit to try to apply it to their writing. However, a few years after the original series came out, Jessica Brody wrote an adaptation of that story structure for novels. Like the original, Jessica included the 15 essential plot points for a successful novel:
- Opening Image - a quick look at the hero's flawed world
- Theme Stated - a quick foreshadowing of what the hero will learn by the end of the story
- Setup - a deeper look into the life of the hero and supporting characters
- Catalyst - a life-changing event that snaps the hero into a new way of thinking
- Debate - showing how and why the hero is hesitant to take the next step
- Break Into 2 - the hero finally decides to take the next step and launches into Act Two
- B Story - introduces another supporting character and subplot (like a love interest)
- Fun and Games - the hero is either loving or hating the new world and building up to the midpoint
- Midpoint - a false victory (first kiss) or a false defeat (breakup)
- Bad Guys Close In - as the hero gets a handle on their false victory/defeat, their enemy is closing in
- All Is Lost - an event that pushes the hero to their lowest point
- Dark Night of the Soul - the hero mentally processes everything that's happened so far (right before they figure out what they need to do about it)
- Break Into 3 - the moment the hero learn the lesson foreshadowed in 2 and figures out what they need to do
- Finale - where the hero and their team of friends, supporters, lovers, etc. carry out the plan and ultimately succeed
- Final Image - a quick look at the hero's new normal
What About the Hero's Journey Story Structure?
If all this seems kind of familiar to you, then you're probably already familiar with The Hero's Journey, which is another popular story structure. The truth is, the Hero's Journey and Save the Cat both hit on many of the same plot points: the hero is reluctant to take on a quest but then something happens that forces them to take action, there's inner and outer turmoil and friction as the hero tries and fails and tries again, and in the end, the hero has learned a major lesson and returns to a new normal because the old normal can never return.
The major differences in these story structures is in how they are divided up and where they fall. The Hero's Journey includes 12 major beats whereas Save the Cat includes 15.
Andrew M. Friday did an amazing comparison on the different story grids to help you see exactly where certain beats fall.
Can the Save the Cat Software be used even if you prefer (or are more familiar with) The Hero's Journey? Yes. You may need some help translating the beats into Save the Cat terms and tweak a couple of things, but you can absolutely use it.
A Quick Confession: I Love Save the Cat
I just want to put in a quick note here that I love, love, love Save the Cat and use this particular story structure for nearly every client project and book I've ever written -- including movie novelizations, creative nonfiction, and branded storytelling. So I am no stranger to adapting the strategy for use in novels.
However, prior to Save the Cat Software, I had my own set up that comprised of Google Sheets and some homemade templates in Scrivener.
- First, I would make a copy of my beat sheet spreadsheet in Google Sheets and plug in the numbers for my counts based on the project.
- Second, I would start a new project inside Scrivener using the template I made for Save the Cat!
- Third, I would go into Scrivener and change the target word count for each folder one by one.
So, when they approached me and asked me if I would review the new Save the Cat Software, you might say I was more than a little excited to jump at the chance and try it out.
Also a quick note: I am not being paid for my opinion or review on this software, but I did receive access to this tool for a limited time for the purposes of trying it out and posting my opinion about it. The following information is based on the experience I had during this test.
Other Ways Authors Can Use Save the Cat Beats in Their Writing
It might go without saying, but the Save the Cat Software can be used for any genre that can benefit from the Save the Cat plotting structure:
- Science Fiction
- Historical Fiction
- Creative Nonfiction
I have also used the Save the Cat Software to help plot out and plan memoirs for several of my clients, which allows for them to share their story in an exciting way and helps them focus on the areas of their story that matter, rather than simply regurgitating a chronological list of events.
We've all seen the movie The Goonies, right?
Anyone who remembers the scene in which Chunk was telling them "everything" knows just how dull "everything" can be.
Is the Save the Cat Software Beginner-Friendly?
Whenever I start evaluating a new tool, I always start with a few basic questions:
- Is it easy to install? Yes, installing the Save the Cat Software is extremely easy to install, as I will walk you through in a moment.
- Is it hard to learn once it is installed? Once I installed the software, it only took me a few minutes to poke around and find out what the features did. Of course, since I was already familiar with the Save the Cat! plotting formula, that might have given me an advantage. But I do believe any beginner would be able to learn this software pretty quickly.
- Does it meet a need that I currently have that other tools aren't meeting? One thing I struggle with a lot is organization. This has been a life-long struggle and it seems as though no matter what type of system I get or what type of folders I build, at some point they all turn into a gigantic jumbled mess. So, as of right now, Save the Cat! software is allowing me to get my stories organized and therefore, as of right now, it is solving that need. Whether or not it stays organized is probably more up to me rather than up to the software.
- How much does it cost? Like most softwares, you get what you pay for and Save the Cat Software is not cheap. This might be the one element that knocks it out of beginner-friendly status, as a lot of beginner writers don't have a lot of budget to dedicate to softwares like this. But I don't think it's the most expensive writing-related software out there, either.
Installing the Save the Cat Software
Installing the Save the Cat! Software works just like any other program you install on your computer. And the process was fairly straightforward: pick where you want to store the files, choose where you're going to store your work, enter your license key, and you're ready to start building your plot.
What Do You Want to Write?
When you launch the Save the Cat Software, you'll get a chance to choose what it is you want to work on:
For this example, I hit the "Start NOVEL" button. It just so happens that I have been putting off working on an idea for a fiction novel for a couple years, and I thought this was the perfect excuse to get to use this software. And during Camp NaNoWriMo, to boot.
If it weren't for the global pandemic happening right now, I would say that the stars were definitely aligned for me on this.
Now, once you're ready, you get brought to this screen:
As you can see, there are a lot of places where you can plug in your information, such as your title and the number of pages you want to write. And as you plug in all that information, the Save the Cat Software will automatically update certain areas. For example, when I put in a goal of 300 pages, it updated to let me know when each beat should fall
You'll also notice that the dashboard itself resembles a sort of cork board, with sticky notes that you can drag and drop anywhere, add more notes in, move them around as you please. There are even areas for you to store information about, well, everything. For example, the characters board has a spot for just about anything you could dream up for your characters:
Click on any area of your character's personality or appearance, and add in new facts as you think of them:
You can also save your character information inside your Master Preferences, if you think you might be using them on other projects, or inside the Project Preferences so they will be available to you whenever you need them.
One word of caution about all these nifty areas where you can add in your information: make sure you save! If you close your character facts without saving, the Save the Cat software will not warn you that it's not saved in there and you will have to enter everything again. I've been spoiled with other tools and softwares that autosave or give some sort of warning if you're about to close something out before saving, so this threw me the first couple times. But, to be honest, it's not a hard adjustment to make if you're used to backing up and saving your progress as you write normally.
Using the Save the Cat Software
If you are already familiar with the Save the Cat model, or any other story structure model on Andrew's grid, then you will be able to pick up and use this software with very little help. There are a lot of features to explore and fill out, but everything will feel fairly straight-forward as you work your way through it all.
On the other hand, if you've never used a beat sheet, or never even looked at how the Save the Cat story structure works, then you may find some of these features and terminology a little off-putting at first.
Again, it's not like you wouldn't be able to figure it out.
How Much does the Save the Cat Software Cost?
If you were already using Save the Cat 3, you can download the newest version and upgrade for a discount off the normal price. Otherwise, you have three pricing options to choose from:
For most authors, the essentials plan ($99 per year) is going to be just fine, but upgrading to either the Premium or the Pro plan will make other amazing features, such as collaborating with other authors on a single project and relationship or object tracking for your characters (how much easier would it be to write a mystery if you could track the gun at a glance while you write?).
All in All, is the Save the Cat Software Worth the Money?
If you're just writing one book with no plans to write and publish further, then this software is probably not for you. You can still implement the Save the Cat story structure using your favorite word processor and save the money.
The same is true if you only write a book every few years.
But, if a significant piece of your income comes from writing books, either as a ghostwriter or as an author in your own right, then I cannot recommend this software enough for you. The $99 a year will seem like nothing compared to the time you'll save in organizing, planning, and writing your stories. You'll find yourself able to pump out your books faster, even if you aren't using the included beat sheets.
Did you enjoy this article? Here are some more tool reviews you may find helpful:
- How to Create a Digital Bullet Journal with Evernote
- The Best Time-Saving Tools for Social Media Marketing
- Is the new Save the Cat Software Beginner-Friendly? A Look at Save the Cat! 4
- 10 Free Tools for Freelance Writers
- Flodesk: the Ultimate Email Marketing Service you Never Knew you Needed
Save the Cat FAQ
What does it mean to save the cat?
Save the cat is a philosophy that the hero of a story must do something right away to make the audience love and root for them from the moment they appear on screen, such as saving a cat from a burning building. It's a small(ish) gesture meant to paint the hero of a story in a positive light.
What is a beat sheet in writing?
A beat sheet is a tool many authors use to plan out their works by outlining the major plot points before filling in the details.
What are the beats of a story?
Story beats are the essential plot points of actions that take place to drive the entire story forward. Girls moves to a new city, girl starts at a new school, girl meets boy, etc.
Is Save the Cat free?
The Save the Cat beats are available online everywhere for free. There are also dozens of articles talking about the plotting formula. The books, courses, and software are not free and vary, but you can easily find them at the savethecat.com website.
Is Save the Cat Good for Beginners?
Save the Cat! is the perfect plotting structure for anyone who loves good storytelling but isn't sure where to start when sharing their own story.
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