The Catalyst – SCBWI meeting

I attended my first local writing group through SCBWI, and whoo! Talk about impostor syndrome. It’s real y’all, and if you experience it, you are, ironically enough, in good company.

One of the women who attended is an award-winning illustrator. Now, those of us who aren’t artists believe anyone who can draw more than a crooked stick figure is a gifted genius, right? Well, she truly is one. She’s been commissioned to do clay mosaics for the cathedral in Helena. Ummm. Hello, that’s like legacy-level achievement unlocked!

Here’s one of her business cards with a sample of the mosaic. Gorgeous.


Here’s one of her business cards with an illustration. Also gorgeous. I love how she hands these treasures out like they’re no big deal. I took two. I’m greedy, yes.


The presentation was about story beats using Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Joann, our facilitator, did a fabulous job using a picture book (A Symphony of Cowbells by Heather Preusser) to demonstrate the entire story structure, including a B-plot done purely through illustration (by Eileen Ryan Ewen).

There are 15 beats, and I won’t go through them all, but I did notice one rule I’ve heard before, and it’s one that I love.

Blake Snyder calls it beat number four, the Catalyst. This is where the protagonist begins the journey. You might know it as the Inciting Incident or, as I learned at Miscon this year, it’s often a Bridge Problem.

In the book, the father and daughter need to get a cow moving. (Moooving) They are illustrated as a line, pushing and pulling on the cow across two pages. It’s a physical solution to the problem. It is also when they acknowledge “here is a problem” and “this is how we will try to solve it”.


In my middle-grader manuscript, this is when Gilda attempts to use her words to free herself after being kidnapped by Lortic Eve. It doesn’t work, but it hints at how she might grow and adapt that possible solution into success later in the book.

At the resolution in Act 3, or Blake Snyder’s beat number thirteen, we are shown in the picture book a line of people physically solving the problem in an echo or shadow of the Bridge Problem from earlier. (Sorry, I have no picture of this. Use your imaginations, please.) In my story, Gilda is able to save her friends and bring peace between two cultures through a story she tells at a crucial moment.

I loved seeing the beats laid out demonstrably in a picture book, and I think it’s a brilliant way to teach the concepts for writers using three act structure, no matter the age of the writer’s audience.

As for that impostor syndrome – Heather Preusser took 20 revisions and six years to succeed with her book, and now we are using it as an example of how to do it right. Everyone goes at different speeds. Everyone has something of value to contribute. If you are writing, you are a writer. Lather, rinse, repeat.

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