Writer in Residence

Don't Bother Saving The Cat

By Eden Boudreau

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When it comes to books about memoir writing, there are a select few that I would recommend an aspiring author read, including BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott and THE ART OF MEMOIR by Mary Karr. But when I started writing CRYING WOLF, one of the things I wanted to do differently than many other authors in my genre, was to make it read like a novel.

Why? Why not?

Novels are captivating and page turning, they engross the reader in story and dialogue. And funny enough, these are probably the most common complaints I hear about narrative nonfictions lacking. Too often memoir reads like a diary entry or journal, which is some cases can be beautiful but to reach a wider audience I believe there has to be a broader sense of storytelling.

Which is why I used, in part, the book by Jessica Brody, SAVE THE CAT! WRITES A NOVEL to help structure my memoir. With a few tweaks of my own, of course. In SAVE THE CAT, Jessica completely breaks down how to plot a novel page by page, which I am not going to do because – word count – but I am going to share what were some of the most useful tidbits and how I used them when writing CRYING WOLF.



Anyone who has taken a creative writing class, even at your local library, has been told that every story must start with the Inciting Incident. The event that catapults your character (or yourself if it’s memoir) into the action. But Jessica instead purposes that you start with an Opening Image. A “before” snapshot. And this became a vitally important device in my writing.

Prior to thinking of opening the book this way, I had this whole backstory of my life and my marriage, almost sort of creating a defense for what came next. Like if the reader didn’t get to know me, before I showed them the difficult to digest parts of my story, they might not have sympathy. But when I started thinking about all the brilliant books and movies that had inspired me as a writer, they all had something in common – a jarring, heartbreaking opening image that became seared into my mind and begged me to keep watching/reading.

This became my intention for opening CRYING WOLF where I did, mid assault. As memoir writers, it is not our job to protect the feelings of our readers. This may sound a little callous, but it is true. It our job to tell our stories in the ways that honour them. And creating an opening image from the very first line, that catches the reader by the hand and pulls them into the story, jarring or not, is how the best memoir is made.


One of the key elements to any good story is tension, push and pull. But how do we show that when so much of memoir is introspective? Sitting in a corner having an argument with ourselves doesn’t sound like it would play out well on the page.

In SAVE THE CAT, Jessica talks about the Debate moment being one where our character asks, What do I do? Where should I go? How will I survive? What happens next? All of which are questions that have been undoubtedly asked at some point in your memoir. Likely just not as bluntly as you would see in a novel.

In CRYING WOLF, I came to this point when I was writing about whether I wanted to report my sexual assault or not. It was a little later in the story than you would see in the classic novel three act structure because well, it’s real and we can’t shift timelines in nonfiction to suit our whims, but it does the job none the less. It creates a moment where I had to decide if I was going to slip back into the abyss of depression or if I was going to charge forward toward justice. It created tangible tension for the reader, giving them a break from the doom and gloom. Debate is a necessary tool lest your reader give up the fight right along with you.


In stark contrast to the Debate, there is this moment. The moment when, in a novel, the main character has hit rock bottom and all hope that they will survive, beat the bad guy or win the war, is lost.

Similarly in memoir, this is a pivotal moment.

Some would think if we started out dark and dreary, then why bring it up again? But the truth is, to write a good memoir you cannot front load it with all the hardships. If your entire story is sad, sad, sad, less sad, HAPPY, your reader is going to stop reading before they ever make it to the happy. Rise and fall are needed to keep the reader engaged and wanting to know more. This is where the All Is Lost moment comes into play.

For myself in CRYING WOLF, it came when I wrote about my brush with a suicide attempt and my sisters unexpected hospitalization that pulled me out of this downward spiral. Truthfully, it was something I was hesitant to include in the first few drafts but as I continued writing, I realised that leaving it out would not accurately show the emotional rollercoaster that is recovery. It wouldn’t serve my reader or the story to leave it out, even if it was some of the hardest parts to write.


No shocker, this moment is a mirror to our Opening Image. A doppalganger of sorts. Meant to show us or our character after our epic transformation. Or in the case of memoir, show that we did in fact make it out alive.

This moment doesn’t have to be as jarring as our opening. In fact, I think it should be softer. Quieter. A moment for the reader to reflect on how far you have both come, together. It’s not so much a finale, because with memoir it’s often just one segment of our lives with so much more to come after the reader closes the book. But it is a moment of closure.


While memoir can be written like a novel, it is nothing like fictional storytelling. You have a real timeline, real people, real events that cannot be fudged to make them more exciting or less sad. But using some of these devices allowed me to share my story in a way that captivates the reader, makes them feel like they are right there with me, holding my hand and I hope they can do the same for you. 

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Eden Boudreau, (she/her) a lifelong maritimer, relocated from Halifax, NS to southern Ontario in 2016 with her family. It was at this time when she decided to finally pursue her dream of becoming a published author. 
Using her own life experiences as a bisexual, polyamorous woman who has survived her fair share of adversity as inspiration, Eden’s essays have been published in major publications such as Flare, Today’s Parent, and Runner’s World Magazine.
As someone who has openly battled mental health issues, Eden was inspired during the isolation of the pandemic to launch her own podcast, Dear Lonely Writer. A show that interviews best selling authors from around the world and discusses the emotional labour that often comes with the writing process – before, during, and even after the book deal.
Her debut memoir, CRYING WOLF from Book*Hug Press arrives on shelves March 22 2023, which follows her difficult road to recovery after a violent sexual assault, with disbelievers at every turn due in part to her non-traditional lifestyle.
In her (minimal) free time, Eden spends it with her three sons, menageries of pets – including a duck named Dave – at their home in Georgina, ON.