Helpful How-to Books – Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat
As I said in my previous post, I’ve read a lot of how-to books on writing. A lot. Writing exercise books, advice books, philosophical musings/zen writing books, how-I-made-a-million-dollars-as-a-writer-and-you-can-too books, etc. etc. etc.
How-to books on graphic novel writing have been popping up over the last few years and I’ll let you know as I read them, but the books that I’ve responded to the most, and still use, are books that offer directorial assistance; they hold my hand, tell me it’s all going to be okay and break down the fear of the blank page into bite-size little pieces. There is probably a name for this type of book, but I don’t know it. If you know, please send it this way.
So, in memory of Blake Snyder, the how-to books that have had the biggest impact on me and still influence how I work are the Save the Cat books…
The first book, Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, is mostly a series of tips and tricks from Blake’s times in the trenches of Hollywood. Some of his advice I’ve seen in other how-to books on screenwriting, but the aspect that makes this book special (and has spawned the sequels: Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies, and Save the Cat! Strikes Back) is Blake’s stellar analysis of screen-story pacing and patterns in plot structure.
The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet (a plot structure template) and Storytypes (categories based on problems that protagonists face) are both extremely helpful.
The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet is better than any other structure template I’ve come across. Snyder has analyzed hundreds of well-structured films and found 15 common patterns in the sequencing of events, or “beats.” Unlike the majority of how-to books that love to repeat what is already well known about the three-act structure, and leave Act 2 as a desert you just have to sweat through, the Beat Sheet presents the three-act structure in bite-size, manageable sections, each with a specific goal for your story.
I don’t advise using it as a plug-and-chug template – in fact I typically don’t use it until I’m in a rewriting stage – but the Beat Sheet aids the writer in constructing a plot that keeps the story focused and moving forward.
Storytypes are a way to categorize your film based upon the problem that a protagonist must face (a monster story, love story, road trip/journey story), unlike genre, which categorizes films based on how those events are presented (action/adventure, romance, crime, fantasy) – what is said vs. how it sounds.
By grouping films into categories that deal with the same problems, we as writers can get a clear understanding of how the problem has been written about before without worrying about whether it’s sci-fi or western.
Again, I typically use this tool while in the rewriting stage. That way, I avoid editing a story I’m working into one of the Storytypes before I truly know what it is – let it be what it wants to be, then edit.
The Save the Cat books are marketed for screenplay writing but the lessons they present are suitable for graphic novels or any medium. For my fellow students at The Center for Cartoon Studies, I’ve donated a copy to the Schultz Library. If you are interested in learning more about them, here’s Blake Snyder’s website.
I hope that helps!