The Craft of Writing

Save the Cat Chapter One: The Hero

So, we are only several months delayed, and I’m not going to be able to do these posts as quickly as I had hoped, but we are finally ready to discuss Save the Cat! Writes a Novel

The first chapter of Save the Cat! is about finding yourself a story-worthy hero. I can’t share all the details here because (a) that would definitely be classed as copyright infringement, and (b) this blog post would be about 5000 words long. 

So instead, I’d like to talk about the part that stuck out to me most. 

In order to do that, I have to share a little story about what happened in my current work in progress. I had this idea for one of those deliciously fun romance stories and I was very excited to write it! I sat down with save the cat and looked at my two lovers and, on the surface, it seemed obvious that he was the person the book was about. He ticked all the boxes. 

I mean, he had a BIG problem and was MAJORLY flawed and everything in his life was messy because of it. So it’s obvious, right? 

Of course not. But I thought it was, so I sat down and, against my intuition, started plotting out the book from his perspective. I got eleven thousand words into it before I realized I was wrong. You read that right, 11,000 words thrown in the drafts forever because I was writing the story from the wrong perspective! 

Where did I go wrong? I followed everything in the chapter about picking a story-worthy hero and still I didn’t end up with one. How could this have happened? 

So I did what every annoyed reader does, and returned to the book to prove I had done nothing wrong and the book was flawed! Okay, I didn’t do that, but I did return to the book to try to figure out what went wrong. 

And there, the second time I read it, was clear as day WHY I’d picked the wrong character for my story. 

You ready? 

“And that brings us to a great tip for writing flawed heroes: Don’t let the problem stay contained to just one area of your hero’s life. Let the problem(s) manifest and spread and infect! Your hero’s problem(s) should be affecting their entire world: their work, their home life, and their relationships.” 

And there it was, plain as day. His problems were work problems. They were conflict, sure. And they were useful in the plot of my story. But they weren’t really HIM problems, they were just problems he had to face. So it didn’t make HIM look flawed, it made the WORLD look flawed. 

Meanwhile, I had completely overlooked my girl whose life was falling apart at the seams because it didn’t LOOK bad on paper. She didn’t seem so flawed, but her little tiny flaw was manifesting itself in all sorts of ways from losing her boyfriend to losing her job to not getting a scholarship. All from spreading herself too thin. 

And there it was. My hero didn’t need a BIG GIGANTIC PROBLEM, she only needed a problem that was really affecting her life. And she already had that. 

So now, after reading the chapter multiple times, I am starting to understand what really makes a story-worthy hero. And I’m sure when I come back and read this book again in a month or a year, with more experience writing fiction, I will see even more in it. 

Have you ever had one of those moments where you realized something was off about your protagonist? How did you fix it? 

On a related note, how do you all go about creating protagonists for your stories? Do you have character sheets you love? Do they walk into your brain fully formed? Something else?

If you’re interested, you can find more posts about the craft of writing here and other posts about Save the Cat Writes a Novel here.

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