Witch is When vs. Save the Cat! beat sheet
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Witch is When vs. Save the Cat! beat sheet

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I thought, since I disliked the novel Witch Is When It All Began so much and enjoyed the Save the Cat! Writes a Novel beat sheet, that I would dive down deeper into it in order to see if I could use the beat sheet to figure out why. It’s easy to say you don’t like something, but it’s much harder to understand the reasons why. However, once you understand why I think you not only become more knowledgeable but will strengthen your own storytelling because you know what to do and what to avoid. That said, let’s take a look at Witch Is When It All Began by Adele Abbott when it is run through the Save the Cat! beat sheet.

Act 1

I have to say, I don’t think that this will line up perfectly with the Save the Cat! beat sheet. I’m not sure what structure the author did use for this novel, but it doesn’t feel like a standard structure at all. Of course, I’m new to this so I may be assigning things incorrectly. Whatever the case, here’s what I got for the introduction act to our character and her world.

  • Opening Image (before snapshot): In the first two chapters we see Jill Gooder in her job as a private investigator as we speak with various people in her current work and personal life: Mrs V her PA/receptionist, Winky the cat, Kathy her sister. We definitely get a feel for how inert this story will be.
  • Theme Stated (hero’s life lesson): I believe this is stated in chapter 2 when Jill is thinking about her adoption in her current family and her rejection from her birth family. It may be muddled or I may be missing it, but I think the theme is Jill unable to get over the past. Her and Kathy are talking about having to change the sign (it still has the name of her father as P.I.) and she replies, “Soon.” Her mind is stuck on her birth mother’s rejection of her. She can’t seem to move forward.
  • Setup (a sliver of the hero’s life): We mainly learn about our hero in chapter 2 when she’s talking to Kathy – how she’s going to proceed with the case, lack of clients after her father passed, lack of love life even with the “new detective” Jack Maxwell, etc. Again, more speaking.
  • Catalyst (the kick): The way this novel is structured I would falsely assume that the catalyst is Danny Peterson hiring our PI to solve the case (ch1, pg2) or when she gets a phone call from her real mother (ch3, pg19), but I think the real catalyst is when her mother tells her, “You’re a witch!” before she passes (ch3, pg22) because…
  • Debate (reaction): she debates this meeting for multiple chapters following the funeral starting in chapter 5 until she finally comes to reason with the reality of magic around chapter 12.

Act 2

Ah, the meat and potatoes of the story… and where this novel falls into the mud. The detective portion feels like it goes nowhere and Jill’s constant rejection of her witch nature means that portion doesn’t go anywhere either even though she sees it with her own eyes multiple times. It’s a slog that doesn’t feel like it has any real struggle.

  • Break into 2 (transition into act 2): In chapter 5 we enter the town of Candlefield which clearly takes our character out of her comfort zone and into the upside down.
  • B Story (new characters): Over the next many chapters we are introduced to multiple people in this new life including her family and clients on the case. The only two that sufficiently fit into the B story category is her aunt Lucy and her mother, but if they’re the B story characters that means the A story is actually the murder case? Something doesn’t add up here. If the B story is the case, then… Jack Maxwell is the B story character? But he is barely in the novel. I’m lost on this one.
  • Fun & Games (promise of premise): Jill spends a lot of time talking with the various family members dealing with the case and with her own family members about being a witch and practicing magic. As stated above, it’s a slog and we really don’t feel like we’re moving anywhere until it’s dropped on us at the end.
  • Midpoint (crossroads): She starts believing in magic? The middle of this book is lost in the weeds. Everything seems on the up-and-up so I would believe that the midpoint would be a false victory, but that doesn’t come.
  • Bad Guys Close In (hero rebounds): Externally, there has been mention of a “Dark One” and his Followers. She is attacked at one point, but we never go into any significant detail on this (seriously, it’s one page on 124). Internally… there’s no struggle that I can see.
  • All is Lost (rock bottom): This doesn’t happen at all… maybe this is when she is attacked? This would give her the “whiff of death” that is mentioned. Perhaps it’s when she’s talking with Maxwell about the man they have in custody for the murders who gave a confession, but she doesn’t believe it’s the correct man? Pretty flimsy.
  • Dark Night of the Soul (reaction to rock bottom): If rock bottom is the attack, she doesn’t react at all (seriously?). Otherwise, she doesn’t react to the confession.

Act 3

This next portion made me laugh because it feels dropped on the reader. I’ll get more into this in my critique at the end.

  • Break Into 3 (breakthrough!): Through speaking with some people she is suddenly able to deduce who the killers are. Voila!
  • Finale (resolve): There is no “Gathering of the team”, “Executing the plan”, “Digging deep down”, or “Executing a new plan”. One could assume there’s a “High tower surprise” in that there are actually two killers instead of one.
  • Final Image (after snapshot): She gets an article in the paper to publicize her work and get more jobs, her grandma wants to train her to better use her magic.

Analysis

I had a hard time applying the Save the Cat! beat sheet to this novel because I feel like it doesn’t follow any traditional structure. This lack of structure leads to many issues for me as the novel progresses.

The hero, Jill Gooder, honestly isn’t a good detective but she is presented as such on page 13. Her sister Kathy tells Jill, “You’re every bit as good as he was. Dad said so himself.” Thinking to herself shortly after, Jill states, “I knew I wasn’t half the P.I. that Dad had been, but I was no mug either. I had a good teacher. Dad said that I had a natural aptitude for the work.” However, nothing she actually does throughout the novel seems to be special. She talks to people – something that the police could easily do. I think her special gift is that she lives in a town with an inept police department, to be honest.

Her magic doesn’t play into the main story at all except a couple of times like when she uses it to turn invisible to get information from the police, but this just amplifies how bad she is at her job. If she has to rely on magic to get information, is she any good at her job? If she used it to cut corners (i.e. the clock is ticking and this is something she needs now). She doesn’t try any other methods so magic almost feels like a copout.

Beyond that, there are no stakes. The only struggle seems to be Jill coming to terms with her witch background. Almost everything in this novel is carried out through conversations while our characters are stagnant and have zero chance of conflict. We are told about characters, hear about actions, etc. When there is some sort of physical action (on page 124), we don’t feel the character is in peril for more than a page.

I feel, if she had stuck to some sort of structure like that given in the Save the Cat! beat sheet, she may have been able to create some sort of interesting struggle. However, Adelle Abbott is clearly trying to spread her world out among a series of novels (as of today totaling 45?!), but in doing so she waters down the story so much that it isn’t interesting enough to want to move forward.

About Post Author

John K

A storyteller of many different genres and on many different platforms. When not indoors working on a project, reading a book or playing games, John is furiously power walking in the beautiful outdoors of his backyard playground.
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