Save the Cat!

With New Dawn doing its thing, it’s time to turn my attention to what’s next. For every book I’ve written so far, I’ve set myself a goal for improvement over the previous: with Noah’s Ark it was simply to write a whole book; with Vessel, it was to try and improve on scene setting and description; New Dawn was all about character building. Although far from perfect, I feel I’ve achieved—at the very least—an improvement in those areas, but there’s been one aspect that’s plagued my development up to now, and that’s that I’ve been flying blind.

Having an experienced and knowledgable tutor, in comparison to self-learning, is so much better it’s almost incomparable. Having someone to guide you, to tell you when you’re doing the right thing or not, to point out what needs to be improved and what’s working well—it’s amazing. The speed of learning goes into hyperdrive, and gone(ish) are the pitfalls of self doubt and worry.

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been taken on by an agent. He’s given me a lot of feedback on my previous work, and given me guidance for what I need to work on going forward, and that leads me to the title of this week’s post: Save the Cat!

Save the Cat! is a screenwriting book that my agent (saying that never gets old!) has recommended to me to develop the next part of my writer’s repertoire: plot. I was already aware that a story is broken down into three acts, had a vague idea of certain ‘things’ that tended to happen at different points, but it was all guesswork really. So I was asked to read Save the Cat!

Save the Cat! dismantles every Hollywood blockbuster and indie cult classic into 15 separate sections, called beats. It’s as simple as that. It’s easy to dismiss the idea as being restrictive, smothering creativity or whatever, but that’s far from the truth. Every good story follows these beats; it’s what we’re used to, what we’ve come to expect. And that’s what I need to learn next.

It’s a really interesting book actually, with lots of great examples of how the process has been used across all sorts of famous films, with little nuggets that make you raise an eyebrow and say ‘huh’. One particular example is this: Disney Pixar’s Monster’s Inc. and Warner Bros’ The Matrix are the same film on paper. Don’t believe me? Then read the following sentence, and tell me which film I’m talking about: XXX is a film about an alternate reality where humans are harvested for energy. See? Weird, no?

With little party tricks like that aside, the book clearly and cleverly breaks down not only the key turning points in a good story’s journey, but also the subtleties that endear us to the protagonist, that make us hate the antagonist, and that keep us on the edges of our seats. If you’re a writer, it’s a must read—if you’re a general book/movie buff, it’s a fine insight into what makes the best films tick.

With all that knowledge absorbed, I’m now working my way through the ‘beat sheet’ on an idea for my next book. Hopefully it’ll be the best yet!

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