Beating the Cat (That You’ve Saved)

5 Feb

I have been absent.

I have been pondering a question.

If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can’t I paint you?

No, not really. (And sorry to display my embarrassing familiarity with Bread lyrics.)

I want to know, if a picture’s worth a thousand words, then how many words is a single page of screenplay worth? In a novel, that is.

My fascination of late is Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need. Forget screenwriting — it works for novels, too. The book is brilliant for distilling the myriad bits of storytelling wisdom I’ve heard over the years into a concise, easy to understand format. I hesitate to say formula because blah blah blah yeah we’re all too artistic to cram our masterpieces into a formula, etc. But, really, this book is magic to me.

He lays out the basic elements of plot, talks about how they relate to one another (Act II is often an upside-down funhouse version of Act I, and Act III is a synthesis of the two), and tells you a precise order and proportion in which to use them. Again, I knew most of it, but it was loose, bouncing around in my head — much like my plot. I really needed a graphic way to examine my novel and all its bits and pieces, and he offers one with his fifteen beats and The Board.

This is not a proper review. There’s some horrific noise going on down the street right now. They seem to be using  bumblebees the size of 747s to do construction on the empty lot. Fills every gap in the air with sound. I may start screaming soon.

Anyway, I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to be able to see my entire novel in one place, see where it goes off track, and see where it fits. I now know how to fix it!

The one thing I am not yet sure of is how to apply screenplay page numbers to a novel. He bases this on a 110-page screenplay. Can I turn the pages into percentages of total pages? Can I be lazy and turn each page into a thousand words (knowing a 110k-word novel is a wee bit too long)? Or does the catalyst HAVE to happen on page 25, even in a novel? Probably not. It finally occurred to me this morning (because, yes, I’m that scatterbrained sometimes) that I can Google “Save the Cat Novels” and see actual answers. Or opinions. Or articles on losing weight and how to buy prescriptions overseas.

I’ve only found one article so far (bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz says the neighborhood), but I’ll keep looking and perhaps share my wisdom on the blog later.

Meanwhile, do give the book a glance or two. I really loved it. And, if you’ve read it and used it for your non-script writing, chime in here and let me know how you did it and how it turned out.


7 Responses to “Beating the Cat (That You’ve Saved)”

  1. Tony Benson February 5, 2011 at 11:23 #

    I keep seeing references to this book, and I really must read it sometime. Like most authors, I’m always looking for new insights and advice that might help me in the process.

    Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz – oops, sorry about the noise!

    • Misha February 5, 2011 at 11:54 #

      I would love to get my hands on that book.

      Sigh… Sometimes being stuck in the Southern Hemisphere sucks.

      Self pity aside, I really don’t know page for page, but I have heard it said (and it makes sense to me) that the impetus to the story must happen at the latest 1/3 of the way through the story. That’s roughly where I would place “Act II”. Still, I would prefer Act II to be longer, so my Act I will likely be hacked along with Act III to allow for more story.

      That doesn’t really follow any rule though. I tend to play it by ear when I write.


      • Caroline February 5, 2011 at 12:01 #

        Tony — You’re going to think I own stock in the book if I don’t stop talking about it soon. 😉

        Misha — You can read part of it online at Google Books (linked above), and there’s an e-version. I think you can read that on your computer (might need some free software that interprets Kindle or Nook formats). Just in case. (And I’m not sure how true that is internationally.)

        Thought I’d post his breakdown of how long acts should last and hope it doesn’t step on any copyright toes:

        Act I: Page 1-25
        Act II: 26-85
        Act III: 86-110

        So 25%, 50%, 25% — not so far off from your own method. You are wise, indeed.

  2. bj February 5, 2011 at 18:43 #

    Please check out the archives at Blake Snyder’s website. There are some wonderful blogs from novelists who have used the Beat Sheet. They answer some of your questions.

    • Caroline February 5, 2011 at 19:50 #

      Thank you. I most certainly will!

  3. Jon Paul February 6, 2011 at 04:30 #

    That’s the next how-to book on my TBR.

    I don’t know the exact nature of the beats Snyder uses, but with other books of a similar nature, the beats correspond more or less to scenes.

    So, for me, I’ll line my scenes up to match beats, with the understanding that in some cases a scene may cover more than one beat, and in other cases, it may take several shorter scenes to accomplish a single beat. I find this works a tad better than trying to match a page/wordcount to beat.

    It sounds like I am at exactly your stage, peeling back the layers on the structure onion and figuring out where my stuff goes off track. I’m finding it quite exciting.

    • Caroline February 7, 2011 at 10:52 #

      I like the onion analogy. 🙂 And it’s definitely exciting.

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