Thursday, August 9, 2012

Can you explain "SAVE THE CAT"?

Sometimes when you're struggling with a new manuscript, it helps to read a how-to book like Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD or Steven King's ON WRITING.  This past week, I picked up SAVE THE CAT by the late Blake Snyder.  It's really a screenwriting book but is highly recommended by fiction writers I know.

No, this isn't from Snyder's book but it's MY blog post,
so it's MY cat and my cat likes a little cognac.
Also chocolate.  And artichokes.
Clear, concise, filled with easy-to-follow examples, it was just what I needed to read.  In fact, I was so excited, I started trying to explain THE WHOLE TECHNIQUE to a writer friend.  Without Snyder's wit and examples, I think I came off as a very dull half-wit repeatedly saying, "And he's so right about X, Y or Z." (My friend listened patiently all the same.)

Why am I telling you about my retelling? Because as I spoke aloud the points that stayed most firmly in my brain, I realized a weakness in my work.  The erstwhile CAT-SAVE (aka GIVING YOUR MC AN ACTION or CHARACTERISTIC THAT MAKES THEM LIKABLE AT SOME LEVEL (even if s/he's a criminal)) was missing.  Not that my character wasn't relatable, even nice--I just hadn't shown it in any early scene in the manuscript.

Now, I tend to be skittish about discussing works-in-progress because I it sometimes feel like my lovely idea, as I speak it aloud, is dissolving into a mound of ugly, unwritable dust. In the face of my listener I see disbelief, uncertainty or, worst of all, boredom. Yet, talking about Save the Cat in the context of learning about my own writing was helpful.

Herewith I will a draw a few conclusions from my Cat-retelling exercise:

1. Saying aloud what you read helps clarify what you really learned.
2. If you're afraid to share an idea, maybe it really isn't all that great.
3. Sometimes talking through a plot actually helps you see AND FILL some gaps.

What's your favorite how-to book?  What parts of TALKING OUT LOUD help you improve what's on the page?


storyqueen said...

I fear the mound of dust, too!! I have such a hard time talking about my WIP without it sounding stupid to my own ears, let alone the ears of others.

My solution is to rarely explain them to anyone...


Stasia said...

Courage, Shelley. My "test ear" is often my 11-year-old son who is very sweet and only pokes fingers through the holes in my plots if I tell him I'm feeling strong enough. Honestly, though, I've found that not holding so tightly to your story ideas can be helpful.

Dawn Simon said...

I love SAVE THE CAT, THE WRITER'S JOURNEY by Christopher Vogler, and Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD. I have many craft books that are helpful, but I think those are my three favorites. At least at 3:42 on August 10, 2012. ;)

It helps me a TON to talk plot, but I only do it in detail with a small handful of writing buddies. Sometimes talking about my book satisfies some of the itch to get it out, and I don't want that to happen! However, talking with my crit group and one or two other writing friends can make me see and hear the plot holes. (And if I don't, they can point them out!)

Hope you're having a great summer!