I just came back from a weekend writing workshop with the amazing Jessica Brody learning about a fabulous writing method based on Blake Snyder's screenwriting book "Save The Cat". Jessica offered an insightful, fun weekend showing myself and five other fantastic authors how to apply this easy technique to novels and make foolproof, tight stories that hit the marks every time. It also helped provide a window into understanding why some stories work so incredibly well when you can break them down and analyze them using this method.
"Save The Cat" essentially relies on a 15-beat structure, which means that within the framework of each story, there are certain story elements that must happen at certain times. The page count these points can fall on varies within each story, but it gives the writer a general idea if they are on track with their pacing and including all the necessary ingredients to keep the reader intrigued. Chances are, if your story is missing "something", if you plug it into the beats you will find out not only what it is but where it needs to go. Incredible, right?
Though some might argue that essentially this makes the story feel "formulaic", I would have to disagree. It just follows the rule of thumb that you must have a hero who wants something (a goal), a conflict (a person, place, or thing standing in the her's way of achieving that goal. Very often this can be the hero themselves and their flaws or the lesson they have yet to learn but are not yet willing to accept and see), a moment of truth and a finale, where the hero has accepted his fate/learned his lesson, etc. and has changed from who he was at the beginning of the story, hopefully for the better.
Additionally, we explored the idea of making a "board" and using notecards to represent each scene to help map out the story, and learned to polish our loglines. At the end of the second day, I had my next novel completely plotted out and it's logline written. Now all I need to do is sit down and write it, but I can't imagine it won't be soooooo much easier to do than other things I've written because I completely have a roadmap.
I'll admit it, I do things kind of ass-backwards when it comes to writing. I'm not a planner, or an outliner; I just sit down and start typing. That's why, very often, my work will have multiple drafts, because I can always count on the first being more of a giant stream-of-consciousness, and in the second draft I go through and tighten and tweak, and continue for as many drafts as needed until it feels ready. This much structure is very new to me, and as much as I'm not big on change . . . I love it. I now can't imagine sitting down to write without doing this first. In fact, it doesn't even make sense NOT to! I've eliminated a ton of head scratching and writer's block before I've ever even typed Chapter One, not to mention all the calories saved from cupcakes eaten in frustration.
So writer to writer, I can't recommend enough that you check out this book and see if it helps jumpstart your writing in a different way, and better yet, sign up for a course if one is offered in your area. Nothing can compare to actually sitting with a group of other writers and workshopping something and seeing it all come together. The excitement is contagious.
Have any of you used this method? What are your thoughts on it?
Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan
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