How I Restructured My Work In Progress Using Save the Cat

Happy September, friends!

You may recall a few months ago I talked about tackling a self-edit for my current manuscript. One thing I didn’t get into during those posts is that I had tried something rather ambitious when I drafted the book–and I already knew it might not work. In the first step I mentioned in my earlier post–the one where I said I read it like a critique partner and note big picture plot and character issues–I noted that it was very possible the structure didn’t make sense. But I left it as is, because I felt too close to it to make that call. Instead, when I sent it to my critique partners, I specifically asked them about it.

In an interesting twist, right after I sent the manuscript off to my critique partners, a local writing group asked me to present on brainstorming and outlining. Ha! Normally, I’m a dedicated outliner, But if you recall, for this book, I got stuck during the brainstorming phase and decided to just start writing.

As I started preparing for the presentation, I realized almost immediately that I’d skipped one of my usual steps before sending to critique partners–inputting the chapter-by-chapter word counts into a spreadsheet to check that my story beats are on target. Considering that I hadn’t outlined this book, I really should have done that…

Anyway, I’ve always used K.M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel, which follows a three-act structure. When I put all the chapter word counts into the spreadsheet, I was even more sure my critique partners would be coming back to me with the news that the structure wasn’t working. But back to the presentation, I wanted more than one outlining resource, and I’ve always heard good things about Jessica Brody’s Save the Cat Writes A Novel. I attended Jessica Brody’s intro webinar, signed up for her newsletter (which is fantastic, by the way!), and put together a presentation that incorporated both structures. Meanwhile, I added a new sheet in my spreadsheet for Save the Cat beats, and nothing was hitting right there either.

So it was no surprise when the notes came back from my critique partners, confirming my suspicion that I needed to restructure the novel. They didn’t all just come out and say that, but reading between the lines on other comments about how information was being disseminated throughout the story, I knew restructuring the book would solve 90 percent of what they’d said.

I don’t regret trying the ambitious structure, because if I hadn’t, I probably would have always wondered if it would have worked. I started making notes about how to approach the restructure based on the feedback, and the day Jessica Brody’s new book–Save the Cat Writes A Young Adult Novel–released, I picked up a copy. I spent a week just reading and absorbing the knowledge. At first, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to apply it to my WIP because it includes multiple points of view, but lo and behold, Jessica Brody includes special examples for that too!

So when I dove back into the revision, I had an entirely new focus. Following Jessica’s advice, I created a dual beat sheet, following each POV character. By the time I reached the end, the dual structure lined up quite nicely. It isn’t perfect yet, but now that it’s all laid out, I know where I need to make cuts/expand for each character and how to whip the rest of the book into shape. All I needed was a little structure!

Which, actually, is not new information. I’ve always appreciated structure. I just got a bit off track with this book. It was fun just writing with no direction, but now we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming, thank you very much.

If you’re looking for some structure, here are a couple of resources:

K.M. Weiland:

Jessica Brody:

My September newsletter is also out today. In addition to an abbreviated version of this feature, it includes a research corner on the use of phones in Your Life Has Been Delayed, what I’m reading and watching now, and a subscriber-only giveaway to celebrate the anniversaries of both Your Life Has Been Delayed and My Second Impression of You, so be sure to subscribe if you want in on future giveaways!

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