Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Tribute to Beat Sheets

Last year sometime when I was having an email conversation with Liz Fielding, she mentioned a a DVD by Christopher Vogler and Michael Hauge that she was listening to. It was about the hero's two journeys -- and since I have found Vogler's work useful, I thought I'd check it out.

In looking for it, I stumbled across Blake Snyder's Save the Cat.

How can you not want to read a book called Save the Cat?

Well, my dogs might not -- though Gunnar was very fond of Kate Walker's best pal, Sid. But other than a few dogs, most of us want to save the cats we run across, especially ones that will help with writing. So I bought the book.

It's a terrific book. Primarily focused on screenwriting, it can nevertheless help any author spot the empty places in a story. And that's even after the fact.

Up front, before I even have a draft, Blake's beat sheet has helped me come to grips with Demetrios and Anny's story.

They were off drifting in the middle of the Mediterranean (in my head -- they were nowhere close to the water in the draft) and I couldn't see any point at which to bring them back. And until I'd figured out what they were coming back for, I couldn't seem to get them there.

Enter the beat sheet.

Writing down what I knew of the story so far, I had made it all the way to the "break into Act Two." I knew bits and pieces of what was coming after. But the beat sheet made me stop and think sensibly about it.

What would up the ante? Who was already there that could cause more trouble? What conflicts -- inner and external -- would put the screws even tighter to Demetrios and Anny? Amazingly, it was all there already in the stuff that had gone before. I only needed to mine it.

So I did.

And I found my theme!

Who knew? I've never had a theme in the 62 books I've written. Well, I suppose I have, but I've never been able to articulate it in less than 50,000 words.

With Demetrios and Anny I can. I did.

So, thanks, Blake. Your Save the Cat is going right up there on the shelf next to Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit. I expect to be pulling it down often. It's always nice to find a book that inspires again. And again.

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Blogger Rachael Johns said...

I have this book but haven't read it yet!! tsk tsk. Your post has me inspired to hunt it out!!


29 March, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Hunt it out, Rach! It's a really useful book. It will help you see the gaps in your storyline and point out places where you don't have any, er, conflict! Let me know what you think.


30 March, 2009  
Blogger Barbara Bretton said...

I bought SAVE THE CAT (on your rec) a few months ago and just started to read it last week. WOW! I'm probably the least left-brained creature on the planet and Blake Snyder's structure even makes sense to me. Does this mean I might actually manage to create a real live plot? Thanks a million times for both Snyder and Tharp. You're my #1 source for great how to write books.

30 March, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Barbara, If I can do it (well, sorta) you can do it. I have a beat sheet with 15 beats on it -- and all of them make sense. Is it a plot? God knows (and maybe Blake), but I know it's a story.

Glad you love Tharp, too. They are both great books. And books that I go back to over and over. And over.

30 March, 2009  
Blogger Michelle Styles said...

I handed my copy over to the editors as I thought they ought to read it. Enlightened self interest. I believe Karin wanted it first.

It is a totally excellent book.

30 March, 2009  
OpenID curtissann said...

Oh, honey, what a help for me! Thank you! I have always had a theme, but did not know it for the first 8 or so books. After that I knew my theme was family and community, and of course I could not articulate it in less than, well, likely 80,000 words. Hmmm...maybe that is why we are novelists.

Who could not resist a book titled 'Save the Cat'? says she with 3 at the moment.

31 March, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Michelle, I hope you're going to get the book back! If not, you'd better get another copy. Blake is going to be in London May 2-3 doing his Save the Cat workshop. Didn't you always want to spend that weekend in London?

31 March, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Curtiss Ann, thanks for stopping by! I enjoy every single one of your 80,000 words while you're busy expressing your theme! But yes, I guess that's why we are novelists. I am still working on his notion of a "logline" for this particular book. And I don't find it absolutely necessary. But I do like the beat sheet because I went back through several of my books and discovered that I was doing it in my head -- and on paper, but without knowing I was doing it. I tend to use the "grope" method of writing, which is frankly not very efficient, but which has gotten me there often enough. Still, I'd rather have the structure up front so I can at least see what might be missing.

31 March, 2009  
Blogger Michelle Styles said...

Anne --
I figure on getting another copy.
Unfortunately I am appearing at the Hexham book festival that weekend. But I told Karin about his seminar -- hence the reason I took the book down.

01 April, 2009  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

I've heard him speak and it was interesting -- but it wasn't a full two day seminar. That, I think, would be particularly useful. Would love to get the chance to do it someday. Enjoy Hexham!

01 April, 2009  

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