Friday, July 25, 2014

Where Have You Been All My Life?

by Kelly Baugh

I’ve been to a handful of writer’s conferences in the last few years, and at every single one of them, I’ve heard someone say, “You should read Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder.  

“But it’s a book on screenwriting,” I usually think to myself. “Why would I waste my time reading a screenwriting book when there’s so many other writing books I need to read?”

After I’d heard the recommendation several years running, however, I decided to purchase the book and I’m so glad I did.  As I burned through the pages I found myself wondering, “Why didn’t I read this book years ago? Why did no one tell me about it?” Oh, wait …

The chapter I’ve dog-eared to death deals with the tight constraints of screenwriting and the structure a good story must have. As Snyder says, “Screenplays are structure. Precisely made Swiss clocks of emotion” (108). With my latest manuscript, I know I don’t have a Swiss clock; I have a failing-EU-country one. My story has a good plot, interesting characters, snappy dialogue, but weak structure.

Save the Cat! gives me a great springboard for the structure I need to weave my story around, and the approximate page number it should show up. Snyder breaks down a story into the following segments:
1. Opening Image (1)
2. Theme Stated (5)
3. Set-up (1-10)
4. Catalyst (12)
5. Debate (12-25)
6. Break into Two (25)
7. B Story (30)
8. Fun and Games (30-55)
9. Midpoint (55)
10. Bad Guys Close In (55-75)
11. All is Lost (75)
12. Dark Night of the Soul (75-85)
13. Break into Three (85)
14. Finale (85-110)
15. Final Image (110)

Obviously, my novel may march to a slightly different, less constrained beat, but I’m excited to use Snyder’s list to transform my work into a more Swiss-like manuscript. Also, Save the Cat! will now occupy the coveted nightstand position in my book hierarchy.

What books are your go-to resources on writing? (I don’t have to wait for another conference to get my next nightstand treasure).


Sarah Sullivan said...

Thank you for the recommendation Kelly. I think I need that book so I just ordered it! Also, I'm wondering what other conferences you might recommend? Great post.

Eleanore Trupkiewicz said...

Hi Kelly,

Fantastic post and recommendation; I just picked up that book myself but had been thinking the same things (e.g., "I write fiction, not screenplays"), so I haven't read it yet. I will after your post!

I have some genre-specific writing books I recommend, depending on what I'm writing at the time, but my go-to books for ALL genres include Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (excellent for learning your characters and plot inside and out beforehand AND for revision after the first draft is complete) and Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches (for writing anti-heroes, villains, and bad guys).

Kelly said...

Thanks, guys! I will definitely check out those books, Eleanore. Sarah, I also really enjoyed the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference. I've also heard that the Midwest Writers Workshop and Jackson Hole Writers Conference are both really good too.

Sarah Sullivan said...

Thank you both for the book and writing conference recommendations!

Laura VanArendonk Baugh said...

I, too, really like Save the Cat! though I've seen it produce formulaic stories; the transitions need to be handled well, and every scene needs a reason beyond just "Blake says this part comes next." That said, we know of course that all structure is a guideline, and it's a great tool for checking our plots against a structured yardstick! And it's fun to see how plots overlap -- that JAWS and ALIEN are in fact the same plot, so even with formulas and guidelines we can produce very different stories.

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