The subtitle of Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder is The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need. So why, in the midst of NaNoWriMo, am I recommending a book on screenwriting?
It’s because this is the book I wish I’d read when I was writing my first novel, which I did during NaNo in 2011. Why? Because Save the Cat! provides a story structure template that is both more specific than the three act structure and not so comprehensive that one feels overwhelmed by the model itself. This makes it the perfect story craft entry point for newbies and a great reference for veterans.
Based on Snyder’s experience as a pro screenwriter and his analysis of hit movies, STC details a sequence of 15 beats that every good screenplay must have. These beats overlays the three act structure and work as a sort of connect-the-dots framework. You can download the Save the Cat beat sheet for free from: http://www.blakesnyder.com/tools/
Snyder would insist you not start writing until you figure out all 15 beats. If you do, you’ll end up with a high level outline for your story. This is a great start for outliners.
If you’re a pantser, the STC model can still be of great use for analyzing your finished first draft and troubleshooting story problems. Alternatively, if you get mired down and can’t figure out how to get unstuck, the template may give you some ideas.
An important part of the STC methodology is creating what Snyder calls “the board.” The board is a layout of index cards (no more than 40) that lets you see how your story fits together. When I used this method on my most recent novel, I was shocked to find I had an overloaded second act and a very thin third act. With this insight, I identified an alternative Midpoint (one of the 15 beats) that had better dramatic effect than what I’d originally planned. This allowed me to shift some things to act three and unlocked the story for me. I was off to the races.
NaNoWriMo is a big challenge, and if you’re like most, getting your daily word count is a hard enough without having to also read about story craft. But if your up for it, go Save the Cat!