Monday, August 30, 2010

Writing by Numbers

This may sound strange, but I didn't want to read another novel after I finished Mockingjay. The story left me with so much to think about and I wanted to keep thinking about it, not immerse myself in someone else's story. So I picked up a book on writing that a friend had loaned me a while back.

Blake Snyder wrote Save the Cat! for screenwriters. But a lot of the information applies whether you're writing for print or movies: master your pitch, know what your character wants, conflict in every scene. I found a lot of great tips in this book, but what stood out for me was the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet. This is a "template" he uses to outline his story. For a 110 page script, he breaks it down this way:

  1. Theme stated by a character by page 5
  2. Catalyst (life changing moment) on page 12
  3. Act Two starts on page 25
  4. B Story, the theme or the love story, starts on page 30
  5. The midpoint where the hero thinks he peaks or collapses hits on page 55
  6. The All is Lost moment comes on page 75
  7. Act Three, where the internal and external stories intertwine, begins on page 85
On pages 85–110, the hero leads the way based on the lessons he learned in Act Two.


There's more in between, but basically, he emphatically states that you should hit your Act break on page 25, hit the midpoint and All is Lost moment hard, and stay within these page confines to keep your script from getting too bloated. Since a novel is much longer, you'd have to do some algebra *cringe* to figure out the page or word count equivalents for a novel, but this skeleton outlining system fascinated me. I've gone back and forth trying to decide if this would help or stunt creativity.

What do you think?

BTW, saving the cat refers to a scene near the beginning of the movie where the hero does something, like saving a cat, to define who he is and make us like him. He could be a criminal, but that save the cat moment shows us his humanity and gives us hope that he'll be okay.

16 comments:

Tess said...

Yes, that last installment was a bit thought provoking and even disturbing (for me). I guess good writing evokes emotion and she certainly did that.

Love the cover on this cute craft book .. I'd never heard of it before

Kelly said...

That looks like a great book. Good idea to switch gears and read a book about writing. I have a few on my TBR pile.
I still have to read Mockingjay so that will trump my writing book for bit!

Kristan said...

Not weird at all. I felt the same way. I'm still thinking about it a lot. I did find that writing my own story was fine, just not reading another book.

I've heard great things about "Save the Cat!" and have always found my learnings from screenwriting class to be helpful in prose writing. Another link I've recommended on my blog (but not here) is the 6 stage plot structure for screenplays. I've been using that lately and LOVE it. It provides a great framework (outline!) without making me feel confined.

Laura Pauling said...

I've wanted to read this craft book. I love screen writing tips. And the books I've broken down (most of them) follow the three act structure very closely. But I never noticed until I looked for it.

I'm in the middle of Mockingjay. It is disturbing. And I can tell, I probably won't read the series again. Too upsetting. Not saying it wasn't worth reading though. Powerful writing.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Read Mockingjay yesterday. I cried. And I think I don't want to read this one again even though I re-read the others. (I also had nightmares all night but at least Sean Connery was the killer in them)

I like that idea of saving the cat to show the humanity of the MC. Not sure I'm up for reading anything right now though. Not even a how-to book.

Sarah Laurenson said...

BTW - this series reminds me strongly of On The Beach by Nevil Shute. It's adult and not about murdering people. But the overall psychological impact feels the same. Those hard choices that are no choice at all.

Carolyn V. said...

Wow, that is great advice! I may have to pick up that book.

I finished Mockingjay and had to meet with my crit buddies because I had to talk the book over with them. I haven't picked up another book yet either. =)

Kay Theodoratus said...

I felt emotionally exhausted after finishing "Mockingjay" ... only I caught up on all the magazines and weekly newspapers.

One thing on your "writing by numbers". While not as specific, I've noticed that plot turns tend to happen by thirds in books.

Elana Johnson said...

Oh my gosh! This is exactly what I need to read to help me with my outlining dilemma! Thank you, thank you!

Lenny said...

i didnt read any of the hunger games cause its too old for me. i could hear how it got inside everyone so thats gotta be really good writing. im just learning about planning out a story and its a little hard but im doing it. i got a cool new book called writing magic: creating stories that fly by gail carson levine. im posting stuff from it on my blog.
...smiles from lenny

Katie said...

What a lifesaver! I am struggling with this very thing! SF and I are blooding about it and will link to your great post :)

Jackee said...

I did the SAME thing after I finished Mockingjay. I'm looking at James Scott Bell's Revising and Self-Editing book. I've heard such great things about it.

Happy Monday, Sherrie!

Lori W. said...

I think the ideas from Save the Cat are perfect. I've recently gotten into the habit of outlining my favorite books, and I'd bet they closely resemble this structure.

I haven't read anything since Mockinjay either!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wow...I'm blown away by your post Mockingjay reaction and the reaction of some of your commenters. I haven't read the series yet (they are on my shelf waiting).

I think anytime you go to a workshop or read a craft book if you take something (anything) away from it then it has been beneficial. So whether you do the formula or not it's obvious that you got something out of it. :) Thanks for sharing....

Suzanne Casamento said...

This breakdown is great. I've been contemplating writing a story as a screenplay (not my favorite format) and your breakdown makes it seem far less daunting. Thank you!

Barrie said...

I've just started Save the Cat. ;)

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