That Darn Cat

The cat is out of the bag.  The genie is out of the bottle.  The horse is out of the … well, you get my point.

Two years ago this month I attended the Life, the Universe, and Everything Symposium in Provo, Utah.  For the uninitiated, LTUE is an annual conference for science fiction and fantasy writers.  Talk about Nerd City.  You would be unsurprised then to learn I felt right at home.  LTUE was, hands down, the most fun I’ve ever had at a professional conference.  There’s something to be said for sitting through sessions full of people who geek out over things like The Lord of the Rings, the movie Interstellar, and the creative process in general.  The 2018 conference was also a grand excuse to hang out with an old college buddy of mine who is one of the coolest and most talented people I know.

That’s not to say LTUE was all sugar cubes and lollipops.  I showed up a wee bit naïve.  I paid good money to spend fifteen minutes with an editor from a small publishing house who showed exactly zero interest in my latest writing project.  (In fairness, she’s far from the only one.)  My eyes were opened to the harsh reality that in the publishing world marketing acumen is as important, if not more so, than actual writing skill.  (Note:  Some would have you believe if you want agents, editors, and publishers to take you seriously, you sure as heck better have 10,000 Twitter followers.)  Perhaps worst of all, I learned I’m a very small fish in a very big pond of publishing dreams.  I mean, I’ve written exactly three books I’m not completely embarrassed by, which to me is a pretty big deal, but it seemed like most of those Lord of the Rings nerds had written at least twenty.

So, LTUE was a mixed bag for me, but today I want to tell you about the best piece of advice I came away with that week, something I didn’t even take advantage of until over a year later.  Here it is.  Are you ready?:  If you want to learn how to tell stories, read Save the Cat.  That’s it.  Admittedly, I didn’t read the original Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.  Instead, I picked up Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody.  I blasted through it, I took notes, and my mind was absolutely blown.

Sure, I was already sort of aware of the archetypal hero’s journey.  I’d read The Hero With a Thousand Faces.  I’ve just plain read a lot of stories in my day, which is to say I’m sort of intuitively aware of some basic components of a good one, but where Joseph Campbell gives you a lot of Freudian mumbo-jumbo, Save the Cat reveals the nuts and bolts.  I will never read a book, watch a movie, listen to a musical, or write a novel the same way again.

Yes, mind blown.  The best eleven-dollar writing career investment I’ve ever made.  I should’ve read it twenty years ago.  So, for all my little Lord of the Rings nerd-lets out there, you’re on notice.  Save the Cat is where it’s at.


Chris lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife, Sara, and their six young children.  He enjoys stories by Ray Bradbury, starry night skies, and cherry limeade.  He is also the author of Red: A Football Novel, available on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.

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