Welcome to Writers’ Uni-Verse-City (or WUVC for short because every university has an acronym), a place where writers/bloggers can meet to discuss the craft of writing in the Internet age. I want to learn what it takes to make it in the world of writing and publishing and nowadays there is a wealth of information on the web. WUVC will involve independent research, setting a curriculum and hopefully finding other participants (like you – readers/bloggers/writers) to: chip in, give tips, suggest books and other materials for study, teach me the ways of the warrior writer, and offer to guest post here at Uni-Verse-City (contact: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Today’s post is about kitties! Just kidding, today’s guest post is by Gene Lempp who has kindly reviewed the book called Save the Cat by Blake Snyder for Writers’ Uni-Verse-City. I think it’s a smart idea to read not only the typical craft books for novelists but also to look at other types of writing. I’m sure there is lots to learn from this book. I think Gene is a great example of a self-educator since he reads so many craft books. I will definately be asking him for recommendations on good craft books. So lets see how Save the Cat was. Take it away Gene.
I recently read Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder. This book came highly-recommended and after reading it I can see why.
Blake has a compelling and relaxed voice and fills the chapters with well-considered advice from over twenty years of experience. He has worked extensively in the industry and sold “million dollar scripts”, including one to Steven Spielberg.
While the book is written to screenwriters, much of the advice equates well to novelists. Here is a brief overview of what you’ll find in Save the Cat.
Blake approaches each project in a systematic manner, however, while he may be a plotter in design he appears for be a pantser for the actual writing which means there are plenty of great tips for both sides of the writing fence.
Blake starts the process with the question: What’s it about? We’ve all seen and heard people try to explain their project in 5000 words or less. The reality: No agent has the time to sit through a long presentation. The fact that the writer can’t boil it down tells them we aren’t ready.
To answer, “What’s it about?”, Blake suggests two things. A compelling log-line (if you aren’t familiar with this concept I’ve provided a link at the end that will help) that states in one sentence what the story is about and an intriguing title that boils the project down to three words or less. Yes, this is tough to do, but when it comes to trying to pitch your work you’ll be glad you put the effort into doing this. Prime example: Consider the movie title Legally Blonde. Did you just see the entire movie concept flash through your mind? That is the power of a solid title.
Next, does our story fit into an understandable genre? If we can’t define the work, then the chances of selling it shrinks. We aren’t talking the complexities of niche genre fiction here, rather, simple form such as a “buddy story” or a “monster house”. Simple sells.
Our story should be about a guy (generic, or gal) who “what”? What does our hero want? What are they trying to accomplish? Having this information up front makes the work stronger and when combined with the previous steps, gives it a clear direction. This is also a major time saving tip.
Every story has beats. Beats are the key points of structure that every story must have in order to function. Having these points in place prior to starting a project will save tremendous amounts of time and energy. Blake provides a worksheet to help us track the beats and defines each one in exquisite detail.
Story-boarding is a powerful tool and Blake provides the best over view and system for this process I’ve ever seen. In fact, it is the only one that has ever made sense to me (but then I could be a bit slow here). Not only does he discuss the uses of cards and colors but Blake adds two dimensions to the process: the emotional plus/minus and the conflict “lock”. Imagine two people enter from opposite ends of a narrow hallway, both set on reaching the other side, with no way to step out of each others way. This is the conflict dimension. Emotionally, does our hero end the scene in a positive manner or a negative one. Tracking the emotional rollercoaster of the story allows us to ensure that we are taking our readers on a fun ride. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book.
Blake wraps up Save the Cat with a solid array of writing conventions, tips and tricks that are effective for any type of writing, not just screenplays.
From the first seed of the story to after-edit marketing, Blake covers the essential aspects of screenwriting (and publishing/selling stories) in full. Overall, Save the Cat was an enjoyable read that provided excellent instruction in story structure and the reasons for that structure.
My thanks to Nicole for having me here today.
If you’ve read Save the Cat, what parts of it did you find most useful? Have any other craft books you’d like to share with us?
Kristen Lamb has a great post that explains Log-lines here.
Gene Lempp is a post-apocalyptic science fiction writer pursuing publication. He blogs about the uses of history, archaeology and myth in his Designing from Bones series. Gene lives in Northern Illinois and is a friend of trees, squirrels and a resident chipmunk named Bob who recently replicated into Bob #2 and now chases himself. “Only the moment seems eternal and in a moment everything will change.” You can also find Gene on Twitter.
Thanks for the great review Gene. When you wrote “Legally Blonde”, the entire movie flashed before my eyes so I’m thinking Mr. Snyder’s book is one to read. It is going on my list of study material.