Saturday, July 05, 2008

Saving the Book

Serendipity plays a large role in my life. It's the coincidence of need and opportunity. And yesterday I got a taste of it again.

Last week Liz Fielding (she of the scrumptious sheikh Fayed) was telling me about a DVD she'd ordered and just received about screenwriting. The instructors were Christopher Vogler and Michael Hauge.

I'm familiar with, and use often, Chris's book, The Writer's Journey, which showed me clearly why I always tend to fall apart at step 6. I'm overwhelmed by possibilities, if you want to know the truth. But that's not what I want to talk about here. Or maybe it is, but later.

I have heard good things -- actually, spectacular things -- about Michael Hauge's workshops. Haven't had the pleasure of attending one, though.

Still, even though I don't have a screenplay in my future (as far as I know), I thought I'd look online and see what this DVD was that Liz had ordered. So I did. And it looked interesting. But what caught my eye was Blake Snyder's book Save The Cat.

It was a Twyla Tharp moment. One of those "accidents" she mentions in her book where you are simply "lucky" -- though of course you have to be prepared to be (and I was, I was -- I was actively looking at something that might help my work).

It was serendipity.

Me and the cat.

Maybe it was a Sid moment (you remember Sid, Kate Walker's Cat of Superior Breeding). Sid would say, "Of course you save the cat." No doubt about it.

Anyway, with Sid's blessing -- and Liz leading me to it, I bought Save The Cat. It arrived on Thursday. I read it cover to cover. I got up at 5 in the morning and re-read parts. I sat down with my meager Christo-and-Natalie, which the editor had just said yes to, and used Blake's "beat sheet" to get a good look at it.

The gaping holes were apparent. The bits that made sense and that I knew made sense were right where he said they'd be. I went back and looked at several of my other books -- ones I sweated over to get to the right place (that would be most of them), and discovered that, yes, those very things happened (not the same actual things, but the same emotional or developmental events) in the same place.

Every time.

And he'd handed me a pattern for it.

Yes, I know we supposedly write to "a formula" but God help me, I've never found one.

But Blake found the beats that create the rhythm that makes all kinds of stories work. Probably others have found it before him (Chris's The Hero's Journey and Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces spring to mind), but Blake wrote them down in a way that speaks to me.

He even made me think of ways to get past step 6 without tearing my hair out. Bless you, Blake. Christo and Natalie will be a better book because of you.

I sent a copy of Save The Cat to a friend last night. It's going on my shelf next to The Creative Habit and The Hero's Journey (except I keep pulling The Cat down to reread bits).

I see that Blake is speaking at the RWA conference in San Francisco. I wish I could hear him, but I'm not officially enrolled at the conference because I won't get to the city until Friday night. But anyone who is going, go hear him. Or buy his book. Or both.

You might not have a screenplay in you either, but good storytelling is good storytelling.

And as Sid says, You can never save too many cats.

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Blogger Dina said...

Fun post Anne.

05 July, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Thanks, Dina. Save The Cat is definitely full of 'aha' moments. And it's apparently blessed by cats!

Hope you had a good 4th of July!

05 July, 2008  
Blogger Patricia said...

I just wanted to pop in and say hi. I've been very busy and time flies.


05 July, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Hi Patricia, Thanks for stopping by. Why are summers so busy? We are supposed to -- occasionally at least -- find a moment or two to relax! Anyway, glad to see you here.

05 July, 2008  
Blogger Michelle Styles said...

Okay, okay, I have ordered it and its companion piece -STC goes to the movies. I know better than to question when you have a Twyla Tharp moment. It generally means gold dust for me!
And you know me and writing books.
I will say that Micheal Hague's books do not do anything for me. They were a bit prescriptive...
The concept of beats sounds very Robert McKee.

06 July, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

I hope you find them useful, Michelle. I haven't got the STC Goes To The Movies, partly because I don't watch a lot of movies, so I hadn't seen many of the ones he was dissecting. And I got the point from Save The Cat itself.

It gave me lots of food for thought. I hope it does for you, too. Keep me posted.

06 July, 2008  
Blogger Liz Fielding said...

I could not possibly resist a book called "Save the Cat". Sir Sid was right. Absolutely. Off to One-Click...

08 July, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Hope you enjoy it as much as I have, Liz!

08 July, 2008  

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