Tag Archives: Save the Cat

NaNoWriMo: Nine, Ten, a Big Fat Hen

9 Nov

Still haven’t broken the 7k word mark.

Flippin’ flappin’ laptop. I need some smelling salts for the dadburned thing.

I am itching to rewrite many of those 7k words, realizing that my MC isn’t driving the action so much as going along for the ride. I have a good idea how to do it. But it’s Day Nine. I don’t think I should be going back at this point.

Anyway, a more helpful bit for my writer-readers (I hope)…

I read a great writing “rule” this week. More of a storytelling tip, but an important one.

In Save the Cat, Blake Snyder talks about Act I being the Thesis (The Before picture), Act II being Anthithesis (Act I turned on its head), and Act III being Synthesis (getting chocolate in your peanut butter*). I’ve had a loose grip on the concept for a while, but it wasn’t until I read about Goldilocks on Wikipedia that I found a simple, concrete way of thinking about it.

Author Christopher Booker characterizes [the story] as the “dialectical three”, where “the first is wrong in one way, the second in another or opposite way, and only the third, in the middle, is just right.” Booker continues “This idea that the way forward lies in finding an exact middle path between opposites is of extraordinary importance in storytelling”.

I now have a simple test to apply to my manuscripts and a simple way of planning the basic flavor of each act in new stories. Act One is too hot/tall/hard. Act Two is too cold/low/soft. Act Three is where the characters mix elements of I and II to obtain the solution that makes everything just right. **

Also from Save the Cat is the notion that the hero and antagonist are often just opposite sides of the same coin. Two lawyers with different ethics in Pretty Woman. Batman and The Joker. Luke and Anakin. Etc. Helps me think about my characters and makes sure that one side of the coin isn’t out of proportion — they should be very nearly matched in scale and strength (whether they realize it or start out that way or not).

NPR is going to announce the winner of the Three-Minute-Fiction competition this weekend. I have no right to be nervous — implies I think I have a chance of winning — but I’m still a fidgety mess.

*My son is allergic to peanuts. I shuddered just typing the word. Used to love the stuff, but now it represents poison to me. So I guess, in my world,  my analogy only works if the MC’s solution is to poison the bad guys. 😉

** I was watching Fairly Oddparents with my son the other day and laughed to recognize the above structure in the 20 minute episode.

Timmy’s fairy godparents have a baby, and so they decide to “babyproof” all his wishes, making them all safe and soft. Timmy, as any normal kid would, feels frustrated, insulted. In the catalyst scene, he discovers there’s a clause in the fairy godparent contract where he can request a temporary fairy godparent if his are not satisfactory. His current godparents advise him not to do it, but he ignores them. We swing into Act II where he’s assigned an uber-macho, vain fairy godfather who is willing to grant all his most exciting and dangerous wishes. And escalate them. Fun and games ensue. Then Timmy starts to feel exhausted and threatened, but his new fairy godfather won’t relent, is only getting more and more violent. Timmy’s not sleeping, is constantly in peril, and can’t see any way out. The temporary contract is for one year or until Timmy explodes, whichever is first. The only way to get out of it is a clause where a kid can fire the temp if he balks at granting enough wishes. But what could possibly upset this new fairy godfather? Act Three begins with him realizing a plan — keep wishing for babyish things to humiliate the uber-macho fairy godfather — bringing Act One and Two together to come up with a solution. After wishing for macho fairy godfather to wear a baby bonnet and diaper on the field of a stadium full of his peers, he succeeds in making his new godfather release him from the contract so that he can return to his former set of fairy godparents.

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NaNoWriMo: On the Brink of Madness

31 Oct

The madness begins tomorrow. Thirty days of grudge match. My imagination versus fifty thousand words. I think I’m up to it. Last year, I went into this with banners flying, confidence high. It wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped, though. The year before that was a breeze, by comparison.

This year, I’m feeling quieter about it all. (Part of a larger trend, as you might have noticed by the dust on this blog.) I didn’t think I’d have enough of an idea, actually. Luckily, one blossomed a few weeks ago. So I enter this year’s fray with less pomp and more preparation. This will be the first time I concentrate on plot instead of story or characters.  I’m armed with my copy of Save the Cat and the various “beats” of my plot. It’s not an outline. It’s more of a list of landmarks I need to hit as I meander toward the finish line in whatever kind of squiggly path I discover. Wish me good luck. Plotting is my weak point.

Another of my weak points is brevity, and I hope to make this novel 60-70k words, completed. Very short compared to my usual 100k-ish words.

Anyway, here’s my project. I hope to have fun bringing it to life.

A twelve-year-old runaway decides to pay “rent” on his woodland hideout by becoming its owners’ fairy god…um…kid – eavesdropping in order to grant wishes, serve as a human Ouija board, and perform anonymous good deeds from the tree tops. However, his “magic” keeps leading to disaster, winter’s on the way, and rumors are spreading that could lead to discovery by the stepfather he’d hoped to escape.

Background texture by Smoko-Stock

Now Put Those Two Hands Together

11 Apr

Yesterday’s post was about The Hunger Games and my story board using Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat method.

Last night I found the two combined — a beat sheet created by analyzing The Hunger Games. Very useful and fun! But don’t look at it if you haven’t read the novel — spoilers (by necessity) abound.

P.S. — I asked Mr. Untitlement to read the first volume last night. He started it after 8:00 and could barely put it down, although he had a perfect excuse to do so — tired and wanting to relax with his beer. At one point, he muttered, “You’ve made it very difficult to go to bed.”

I fell asleep.

Around 11:30, I heard him drop the book and leave the room. He said, “I have to stop reading.” I thought it was because he was going to bed.  A short while later, however, the light clicked back on. He strode to the book and grabbed it, grimacing. Said, “I’ve calmed down now. I can read again.” He finished it at 1:30 then read my blog entries, Samantha’s review, and the Hunger Games beat sheet.

I love my husband. He’s better than a thousand Peetas.

May the Beats Be Ever in Your Favor

10 Apr

Jennifer Lawrence will play Katniss Everdeen in the upcoming film

Okay.

A little embarrassed by my fangirl squeeing over Hunger Games last weekend.

But…

Yes…

I read the whole damn series again this week.

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta

In my defense, this time I was reading it with a critical eye, looking for technical elements — how she set up the plot, her sentence structure, et cetera. I’m still amazed at how well she grabs the reader and never lets go, not for an instant. There’s always a sense of peril. Safe times are found only in retrospect, in that, “Okay, I guess it really was okay after all,” kind of way. But you don’t believe it at the time because everything and everyone is suspect. Blake Snyder talks about how a character’s goals and stakes must be primal at their root — love, survival, hunger, protection, sex… It doesn’t get much more primal than this!

It took me until the second book to realize the story was written in present tense. Unbelievable. That’s usually something I notice in the first paragraph and have to grit my teeth to get past.  She executed it perfectly, I think, and it could not have suited the anxious, fast-paced immediacy of the story better.

On second reading, I was equally engrossed. Only in the third book did I start skimming. Exposition galore. Necessary, though, I suppose. We’re in a new place with new rules.

I do wish the last bits of the series were a little more fleshed out instead of summarized, but I guess it couldn’t go on forever.

M. Howalt — you asked in the comments last week what made the series compelling. My friend Samantha wrote an excellent post on the series here. Check it out. I agree with everything she says (and am clearly still fangirling because I got happy chills reading the title of her article, heh).

***

In my personal realm, I remain a foggy-headed, migraine-laden hermit. Gotta snap out of that somehow, someday.

But, hey, it hasn’t been a total waste. Besides falling in love with a series (which is such a great feeling), I also managed this:

My novel! All in one place! All the pieces! (Although some are vague [solves problem] or drawn in broad strokes.) Redoing  the major beats on red cards was a treat. I’m an office supply junkie and a visually-oriented person. The red cards make it feel concrete and prove to me that it’s not all an amorphous smear of a cloud. It has the bones! Look! Right there! 😉

Look at Act One — so many cards. Look at the second half of Act Two, so few cards. Not that big a deal, I think. The second half of Act Two is where I’ve drawn in broad strokes, labeling major elements. I think I pretty much  wrote the entire first act on the cards up there! Lots of details that don’t need to be there. I’m still figuring all of this out, though.

The pirate ship was already there, an unintentional metaphor for how my sons like to shoot cannons of distraction at me at all hours of the day.

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.

(bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz)