front cover of the book Where the Road Leads Us
When I showed up that morning at the Save the Cat! for Novels workshop led by popular YA/MG author Jessica Brody, I had no idea that what I learned that day would have such a crater of impact on the way I write and revise. (If you ever get a chance to take one of her workshops, I highly recommend it!!)

Outlining is not my jam. The idea of having to have my whole story worked out from start to finish before I get started is nothing short of overwhelming to my writing process. I am, as a general rule, a card-carrying pantser, tending to figure out what happens as I go, only having a vague idea of where it all ends, which is subject to change at any given time.

Yes, I know that makes writing far more difficult than it probably needs to be, but I’ve tried lots of writing methods and none of them seem to have worked magic. I was thrilled to find that Save the Cat! was different; instead of having to envision the entire story all at once, I only needed to focus on one beat at a time, and once I did, I discovered it started to unfold itself naturally. I’ve been a fan girl ever since.

Where Save the Cat! truly proves itself invaluable to me even more so is as a revision tool. In the earlier drafts of my first novel, My Kind of Crazy, I found that laying down the beat template over my novel was like someone shining a bright light on my book, illuminating all the holes in pacing and character development as well as the most effective places to insert callbacks and red herrings. It was straight up alchemy!

I started drafting Where the Road Leads Us in the spring of 2016, although it wouldn’t be finished for three more years—five if you count the time spent revising it until its ultimate publication. Its initial incarnation was a poignant, humorous coming-of-age story about a boy navigating grief after the loss of his father and estrangement from his brother, struggling to figure out how to move forward. He reconnects with a girl he knew from a class in high school who is also at a personal crossroads and the two find themselves on an unexpected road trip to take charge of their destinies. It was told entirely from Jack’s perspective, and I felt confident thanks to STC! that I’d hit all the marks and told a good story.

My editor liked it but thought the novel needed something more to maximize its emotional punch. She suggested I do a deep dive revision, rewriting it as a dual POV, allowing readers to also get inside Hallie’s brain and make her less of a manic pixie dream girl trope. It had been challenging enough to plug one person’s story into a 15-beat structure and feel like I covered all the beats, but how would I do this for two? Not gonna lie: the idea was nothing short of terrifying.

This had been Jack’s story exclusively for so long. It wasn’t just as straightforward as flipping Jack’s chapters to Hallie: they each had to have unique voices and their stories had to be equally compelling and engaging. The timing of their beats had to be aligned or it could bog down the entire pacing. I’d not given anywhere near as much thought to the details of Hallie’s life and circumstances beyond what was on the page and how they supported Jack’s story. My editor was absolutely right, and not giving her a voice was missing an opportunity to really uncover the heart of this story.

Once again, Save the Cat! was the perfect tool. I looked at all of the beats of the novel that were best told through Jack’s lens and then I marked the chapters that could be told for equal or better effect through Hallie’s. When I applied the 15-beat template to what I had already written and attributed to each character, I could clearly see the missing bones in the skeleton, more specifically the places where Hallie’s story needed to come through.

I had a sense of who these characters were now, so it was a lot easier to massage details or add scenes that spoke to specific missing beats without feeling redundant in the storytelling. Using STC! was like having bumpers in a bowling alley, helping to keep pushing me back in the lane and preventing me from spinning off course. It made all the difference in this being a manageable creative challenge, and I’m hopeful the end result is a story that will resonate with readers.