Yesterday I began my countdown of My Top 5 How To Write Books Books with How Not To Write A Novel: 200 Common Mistakes to Avoid At All Costs If You Ever Want to Get Published by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittlemark.
Today I’m going to tell you about No. 4 – Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder.
Before you all start screaming at me, yes I know it’s a book about screenwriting; I’m not as dumb as I look. But it is also the single most useful tool I have ever come across when it comes to that thorny little problem called plotting.
I think it was a fear of plotting that prevented me from writing anything longer than a Post-It note for so many years. Sure, I had the characters – I could see them as clearly in my mind’s eye as I could my upcoming marriage to John Mayer and my appearance on Oprah’s book club. (‘Well Oprah, of course I never even dreamed I’d end up here…’) I knew the fictional world they lived in and what the weather was like there. I knew the beginning of the story and the big climax at the end.
But what the bubbles was supposed to happen in between?
And don’t tell me I need pace, conflict and tension. Tell me how to get it. I want the nuts and bolts, the diagrams and charts, the step-by-step instructions. I want one of those booklets that comes with IKEA furniture, except with words as well as pictures.
And so one day, in the now-defunct Virgin Megastore in Downtown Disney, Orlando, I came across Save the Cat! and within its pages, The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet: a fool-proof plot structure for a movie that with just the tiniest bit of tinkering can also be a fool-proof plot structure for a commercial novel. And what’s amazing is that when you think of movies or commercial novels that left you feeling perfectly satisfied (like that moment three bites after Chinese take-away but three bites before too much of it) you start to see how they intentionally or otherwise fit into Snyder’s scheme.
You can download your own Beat Sheet from the Tools section of Synder’s website although obviously enough you’ll need a copy of the book to explain the terms listed on it.
Other screenwriting gems of Synder’s that can help budding novelists:
– Working on your movie’s logline and pitch translates into boiling your plot down for the synopsis
– Plotting your movie using a series of colour-coded index cards translates into plotting your novel and (writer bonus!) hours of procrastination
– The Immutable Laws of Screenplay Physics – clue: Save the Cat is one of them – are like life-rafts you can throw into the waters of your book’s plot when your hero starts flailing about in his surf shorts and screaming for help like a girl.
NB: Synder is like the ‘For Dummies’ version of Story by Robert McKee, the quintessential book on story-telling, and in fact Snyder mentions McKee as an influence in his book. While I love McKee and hope to attend one of his seminars some day, Story is a lot to take in for someone whose just wondering how to get their protagonist from Point A to Point B. Save the Cat! is a lot easier to digest, easier to refer to in the midst of your novel-writing and pretty funny to boot.
Click here to buy Save the Cat! from Amazon.co.uk:
Read a review:
Visit the official website where you can download Snyder’s Save the Cat! software and iPhone app:
Blake Snyder, besides being a screenwriting guru and by all reports, a super nice person, wrote and sold dozens of spec movie scripts, including Blank Check and Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot. He made several million dollars sales and wrote two more Save the Cat! books, Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies and Save the Cat! Strikes Back. Tragically, Snyder passed away suddenly in August 2009.
Join me tomorrow when I’ll be revealing No. 3…
UPDATE: Roz Morris, author of Nail Your Novel, talks about using a beat sheet for your novel in this very useful post. You can also download the e-book version of Nail Your Novel free of charge from Dirty White Candy.