How to read like a writer
Hello everybody, today we are going to talk about reading like a writer. You can watch all the YouTube videos you want and read all the blog posts on writing, but the best way to learn more about writing and storytelling is to analyse your favourite book or even tv show or movie. You’ve probably been inspired by a book or piece of media before, but have you really analysed it? Because there is a reason you love that story with all your heart. All those books with huge fandoms, there’s a reason why everyone likes it. And no, it’s not some kind of magic only the author knows. You can figure this out by learning to read like a writer. And that is exactly what we are going to discuss on today’s post. Before we get started don’t forget to subscribe to my website, so you never miss a post and like this post, to let me know you liked it.
In today’s post I am going to teach you how to break down a story using the save the cat three act story structure by Jessica Brody. You can download it by clicking here the template is super helpful and I really recommend checking it out. I am also going to be using the book shadow and bone by leigh Bardugo as an example. This is a fairly popular book and if you haven’t read it, go read it and we can discuss it. I will refer to the book here, not the tv show, but if I accidentally mix the two of them forgive me. And this is just my interpretation of the book, for you it could seem completely different and that’s okay, this is just what I think.
Before we get started with the three act story structure, here are some things you should consider:
1. The characters conflict
Think about the main character’s conflict in the book. What do they want and what are they afraid of? Abbie Emmons has a great video on internal conflict so you can check it out here on more information. But try to pen down the main character’s conflict because that is one of the main things that drives the story.
2. Character’s goal
What are the main character’s goals? Here you should consider not just their big goal, but also the smaller ones. I cover character goals in my post how to create great characters for your story. Your character is probably going to have one major goal and a bunch of other ones. Create selfish goals along with something big like saving the world (If that’s something that happens in your book).
3. The main plot
Consider the main plot of the story. What elements of the plot did you enjoy? Was It something like betrayals or kidnappings? Also consider the subplots and everything in the storyline that interested you.
Now let’s get on to the three-act story structure.
1. Opening image- The opening image is the beginning part of your story. It’s a glimpse into your character’s life before you mess it up and shake the boat. For your reader to understand how much your character’s life changes, your reader needs to see the before.
Shadow and bone example: In the opening image we see our main character Alina, a cartographer and learn a little bit about her life. We see her with her best friend Mal, who she is also in love with. Alina feels like she doesn’t quite fit in anywhere and there’s something missing.
2. Setup- In the setup, we explore our main character’s life and learn more about them and their flaws. We explore our character’s life and their world. We learn about their goals and their conflict and what they have to learn at the end of your story.
Shadow and bone example: In the setup, we learn more about Alina’s world and their world at a large. Alina and Mal need to go into a fold which is literally an area of darkness that separates eastern and western Ravka. People need to go through the fold occasionally for supply runs. But in the fold, we have a few lovely creatures called the volcra and people don’t always make it out. We are introduced to the character of the “darkling” and see how everyone views the grisha as unnatural creatures.
3. Inciting incident- Your inciting incident or catalyst is the first big thing that happens in your story. This doesn’t have to be a physical explosion or big thing (although it could be). Your inciting incident just has to push your protagonist outside their comfort zone and toward furthering the story. After your inciting incident, your character’s life should change significantly.
Shadow and bone example: The inciting incident is when Alina goes into the fold and her powers are revealed when she goes to protect Mal from the Volcra. This pushes Alina out of her comfort zone and the world she knows. Her life after this is totally changing.
4. Debate- The debate sequence is where your character debates what next? Whether they should di it and go outside the comfort zone or if they should just refuse to change. Sometimes they may not have an actual choice in the matter but they can still protest how they react to the situation.
Shadow and bone example: This is where Alina goes to Ravka and she has to embrace her new life. She’s not ready to let go of the old one and her friends and Mal. And she really doesn’t want to be Grisha, it seems to bring more trouble into her life.
5. Break into 2- This is where the character is thrust into the middle part of your story. This is what the debate sequence culminates to. It’s where your character accepts what happens and this helps push the story forward.
Shadow and bone example: This doesn’t have to be one specific big scene, but this is where Alina lets herself train and uses her powers as the sun summoner. She accepts her role in the world and goes through the plans laid out for her.
6. B story- The b story is where a subplot is introduced into your story. This can be through the introduction of your story. This can be a friend or a romantic subplot. The b story assists the main storyline and helps further it.
Shadow and bone example: We have a bunch of characters introduced like Genya who soon becomes Alina’s best friend in the little palace, Marie and Nadia and of course the darkling. And of course the romantic subplot between Alina and the darkling. This doesn’t quite feel like a subplot because it goes to play a major role in the story.
7. Fun and games- This is the part of the story where your character is really fitting in and having loads of fun or being miserable. This story beat is called fun and games, but trust me, it doesn’t have to be. Your character could be having a miserable time at this point, but in this story bet we just see their new life unfold and how they’re coping. They could have the time of their life or hate it.
Shadow and bone example: In shadow and bone, this is the part of our novel where Alina really starts to fit in with the Grisha and likes being at the little palace. She still holds on to Mal and is upset that her letters don’t get there, but there’s a lot going on at this point.
This is the part of the novel we learn about the amplifiers and morozova’s stag and the darkling tells Alina all about his goals. Or what she wants to hear, he makes her feel special and well manipulates her. We also have Alina’s training with Botkin and Bhagra, which each gets better as time goes. She learns more about her powers and also makes a rival? (honestly, I don’t know what Zoya is supposed to be at this point.)
8. Midpoint- This is quite literally the middle of your novel, although I’ve noticed that the mid-point doesn’t strictly have to be in the middle. Most times I’ve seen it after the 50% mark. At this point we are finished with the fun and games and we probably have something big that’s going to take place. But if you’ve read a lot of books, you know that any kind of fun in novels doesn’t exist for too long. This is where the fun and games come to an end, if your character’s fitting in its time to rock the boat. But if your character’s been having a terrible time, they can see a glimmer of hope or happiness here.
Shadow and bone example: In shadow and bone, this is where Alina goes forward to do the demonstration for the king. And it all goes well, leading to victory. But… no. We learn that Mal has been hunting for the stag, because he wants to help Alina. He has tracked down the stag and is now at the little palace to let the darkling know and see Alina. But he sees her dressed in black and fitting in and having the time of her life.
Mal doesn’t know that she wrote to him, and Alina doesn’t have any idea about how much trouble Mal went to for her. He leaves and Alina is really upset, but if that’s not enough Bhagra tells her the truth about the darkling and she has to escape.
9. Bad guys close in- At this point in your novel, your character’s had a wake up call and the false victory is over. Things are probably going to get progressively worse from here. Your villains are going to close in and your character’s on the run and they don’t have to literally be on the run. If you don’t have a real villain, this can be metaphorical.
Shadow and bone example: Alina is now on the run from the darkling, and she’s barely surviving until things get better and Mal shows up. But things are still not very easy. The darkling and the other grisha are now after Alina and Mal and the two of them have decided to hunt down the stag.
10. All is lost- Now the bad guys have closed in and this is going to be the lowest point in your story. Everything has caught up with your protagonist and they have never been at a worse place.
Shadow and bone example: Now, Alina and Mal are captured, and she has to do as the darkling says for Mal to come out of it alive. She knows that the darkling is going to use her to wield the sword as a weapon, but what can she do?
11. Dark Night of the Soul- If the All is lost is the lowest point of your novel, this is where your character takes time to process what happened. This isn't a very big processing beat. According to the save the cat template, it’s usually from 75% to 80% of your novel. Let’s do this with an example.
Shadow and bone example: Like I said, this isn’t a very big beat, and it doesn’t always take place for 5% of your story. In shadow and bone this is where Alina is in the prison and the darkling puts the amplifier aka our stag friend around Alina and he is going to control her.
12. Break into three. But ‘aha’ moment sounds better- This is the aha moment, which is where their character arc is nearly complete. If you’re writing a standalone, this is probably it. The scene where your character faces their misbelief and learns their new truth. If you’re writing the first or second book in your series (or any book that isn’t the last one), this isn’t it. Your character can’t learn their big truth yet, but they will overcome a smaller problem or misbelief.
Shadow and bone example: This is where they go into the fold and just when Alina thinks all is lost and Mal is going to die, she sees the stag again. She realises that the stag was telling her about mercy and that wasn’t something the darkling would understand. Now the amplifier is Alina’s, and she has her powers under control.
13. Finale- This is where your hero finally defeats the bad guys and overcomes their big problem. The ‘aha’ moment is more of a mental or emotional moment, but this beat is all about the doing. No matter what genre you write, in this beat your reader usually fixes their big problem and maybe have a big showdown.
Shadow and bone example: In this beat, Alina takes control of her powers. She’s the only one who can save Mal, so she does it. She uses her light and saves herself and mal but she is not strong enough to save Novokirbirsk from slaughter.
14. Final image- Your final image is just a little of what happens next. If your writing the first book in a series, don’t give your reader too much.
Shadow and bone example: Here we see that Alina and Mal are going to go into hiding and come back when they can to help the Grisha.
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That is it for today I hope you enjoyed this slightly lengthy post so I’m going to end it here. But read shadow and bone if you haven’t and read my analysis on the same. Don’t forget to subscribe and if you want more writing advice, be sure to check out my other posts.