Friday, February 11, 2011

The Board (From SAVE THE CAT)

One of the things that happens to writers when they surf the 'net while putting off writing is that they come across helpful advice from other writers. In a comment on one of the blog posts I was reading a few weeks ago a writer mentioned a book called Save the Cat as being a great help in plotting.

Plotting! This is generally my weak point. Any help I can get, I will take, and you must admit that Save the Cat is an irresistible title. Besides, it has a cute cover. The book is available on Kindle, for which I have an application on my Ipad, so I downloaded it eagerly. It did not disappoint.

Save the Cat is actually a book on writing screenplays by a screenwriter named Blake Snyder. Clearly I'm coming pretty late to this party, since the Save the Cat movement is all over the 'net, and Blake Snyder himself has been dead since 2009. (What!? Nooo-) You want this book, by the way. It's breezy, charming, and extremely practical. Besides recommending that you have a killer title before you even start writing, Snyder says you must have a good log line.

I don't have a good title for the first book in my new series. Hush! No Screaming in the Library doesn't cut it. I do, however, have a log line that I like:

A small-town librarian discovers a crazy homeless woman living in her library, whose secrets soon bind them together and put both their lives in danger.

Snyder says there must be a save-the-cat scene early on, where the protagonist does some act of good will and courage that will cause the audience to root for this person. I'm having my protagonist, whose name I have not yet discovered, save an actual cat, a stray cat who was a member of our household until he succumbed to kidney disease, possibly brought on by eating Chinese melamine. But I digress.

Having a general idea what your book/screenplay is about, you then begin to make notes on cards of scenes you want in it. You then arrange the cards on a storyboard, divided in four segments, with certain plot turns occurring on certain pages of your script. Things take a 180 at the midpoint, for instance. This sounds to me like something Chris Grabenstein told us at a Mystery Writers of America meeting, how there are tent poles holding up the plot. You know, I've been doing this professionally for twenty years or so. Any day now I'm going to get a handle on it.

So I took Blake Snyder's screenplay page numbers, where he indicated that certain twists must happen, and using eighth grade algebra converted them to page numbers in a 300 page manuscript. Now, don't tell me the book will be worthless because it's built on a formula. You might just as well say a sonnet is worthless. Then I put a board together over my computer, stuck all sorts of cards up on it, and sat back to view the results.

Blake Snyder would not advise me to start writing at this point, because the storyboard clearly isn't finished. Yes, I have drama, and a beginning, and an end. Sort of. But it's chaotic, as you can see. I don't care, I have to get busy and write my story. The board as it stands is a good enough guide for me.

Or possibly it's the map of a deranged mind. At any rate I'm writing.

--Kate Gallison

No comments:

Post a Comment