Save the Cat! and Hero’s Journey and 5 Commandments, Oh My! – Which Story Method Should You Use?

It seems like everyone is coming out with a new method to write stories nowadays. Do a quick search on the web and you’ll get millions of results, all telling you that one way is best. Hero’s Journey is the tried and true method, focusing on the main character. Save the Cat! is perfect for screenplays, but helps immensely with novels too. And what about the 5 Commandments of Storytelling by Story Grid? Don’t forget the thousands of other methods out there!

As I continue to figure out how to approach Project Pea – and so figure out how I’ll be approaching every book I write from now on – I’ve been bombarded with all of the different “writing a novel” methods. Every time I see a new one, I think: “Huh, that’s actually pretty cool! I’m going to look into this.”

Cue fifty tabs open on my computer along with about a hundred PDFs of templates and such lingering on the side.

This isn’t a good way to write a story.

There is such a thing as doing too much research. While exploring your options is great, it becomes harmful when it gets so overwhelming that it overshadows actually writing the novel. And, to be honest, that’s where I was last week with Project Pea.

I’ve never had this problem before. My method for writing stories in the past has always been “Take the idea and go” with little (if any) prior outlining or planning. It’s always worked for me…until now. Project Pea has challenged me as a writer more than any other project because it’s forced me to take another look at the way I write.

It’s made me realise that maybe there aren’t really “pantsers” and “planners.” Maybe we’re all just a different mixture of both.

I always said: “I can’t outline.” And yet, I did it for work projects (albeit with a bit of difficulty, sometimes). This realisation – along with many others – made me realise that I had many preconceived notions about what I could and couldn’t do when it came to writing a story. It wasn’t that I couldn’t outline; it was that I figured out most of the story, especially the middle, while I was writing. But I still had ideas about what would happen all throughout the book!

I had simply been looking at the wrong outlines.

All of this to say that I’ve come to believe that to write the best stories (and write them most efficiently), there should be at least a bit of planning before you start writing – but some people will want to plan more, and others will want to plan less. And that’s okay!

The important thing is to find the method that works for you.

I closed the tabs. I trashed the PDFs. I took a deep breath and started from square one. This wasn’t about how many story writing methods I could find, it was about which one (or maybe two) I liked best, the one that made sense to me and gelled with the way I was already writing.

I used to abide by the Hero’s Journey, but I soon realised that it wasn’t quite enough for me. I felt like it was missing some things and I wanted a bit more structure – but not detail, there’s a difference! – when outlining my book. I began looking more into Save the Cat!, which has become increasingly popular over the past few years. It makes sense – with cinematic storytelling on the rise, Save the Cat! can work in any storytelling medium!

I like STC because it provides a bit more structure than Hero’s Journey, yet still doesn’t require you to be extremely detailed (unless you want to). It’s also focused on character development, just like Hero’s Journey. Something about it just made a bit more sense to me.

But I’ve found myself committing to a new find in storytelling methods, too. Story Grid breaks down stories in a way that just makes sense, claiming that every story is made up of just five things: inciting incident, progressive complication/turning point, crisis, climax, and resolution. These five elements occur on both the macro and micro levels in a story; for example, a complete story will have all five of these things, but so will every scene within that complete story. It’s pretty cool, and it’s a great way to judge if your story has all of the necessary elements.

So, Save the Cat! combined with Story Grid’s 5 Commandments of Storytelling is what works for me. What works for you will probably be different – let me know what story writing methods you use in the comments! But above all, just remember not to be overwhelmed by the how; it’s more important to do.

Happy writing!
-E.J.


Want to learn more about how to write a great story? Subscribe to my monthly newsletter to get a FREE storytelling guidebook right off the bat, plus insider looks into my upcoming works, more writing tips, book recs, and much more!

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina 🇺🇦 on Unsplash

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