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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Blame McAllister



Right, if you want to blame someone, blame Anne McAllister. When she blogged about Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, I knew I would want to read it. I also bought the companion piece --Save the Cat Goes to the Movies. And actually STC 2 is good and does help explain more about the needs of various genres and the why behind it.


The book is a quick and easy read but details the aspects of story telling, rather than character creation. It has a beat sheet which can easily be transformed into a synopsis. I suspect that it is worthwhile to make sure it can be filled out before you send in your ms and that you are happy with the book's structure.


The book has helped me come up with a new working title and therefore, it is useful. It also reminded me of several things. Again useful. And possibly not what he intended, but I will take inspiration when it strikes.


The style is far more breezy than McKee's Story. Story remains the bible in many ways for me, but I know many people find it ponderous and hard to follow.
The reason why such books work for commercial novelists is that like screenwriters, commercial novelists are concerned with storytelling. It is the driving motivator. It is what makes people keep turning the pages. Or buying the tickets or what have you.In other words, it is an arch plot close ended scenario. And whatever medium you use for the telling, the basic structure does remain the same. Equally because the archetype genres are the same, his break down of genres can be useful.
But it is a good book and has lots of helpful exhortations. It is not ground breaking or earth shattering. Swain covered the lot in his Techniques of a Selling Writer back in the 1960s.
Some people are simply more at home with one set of examples than others. If you find it easier to dissect movies, then you will get a lot out of this book.

One quibble I would have with Snyder is he is a bit too didactic and prescriptive. On page 21, this must happen. As my old editor explained, this sort of thing goes back to Russian Soviet type of thinking. At this point, the peasant must have a cow. Without explaining the why. But he is mainly talking about form and his obersvations can be extrapolated out.
McKee makes the point that the tools need to be brought out only when things feel flat and are not working. Snyder likes to start with his tools and his story board. Although he says that a screenwriter needs to be bullheaded, there is not the same exhortation to master the forms that I felt with McKee or Tywla Tharp. However, I suspect that the intent is there. It is only through mastery that one learns. And unless one understands the form, one can not understand the why. The only reason to deviate is to put something better in its place.
And equally that sometimes, you just need to write. And if it is not broke do not fix it. Form not formula. There is a subtle difference. Beat sheets , story boards etc are tools that assist and not straight jackets that confine.

I suspect in many ways Save the Cat is of more use to editors and those studio executives. In other words, for that time when you are looking for holes and reasons reasons why certain things are not working. But it is more of a fixing a bad page than filling the blank page sort of book. And therefore, authors need to rely on their imagination to create the first draft. The first draft could be a story board btw. Or it could be the actual writing. But at some point the writer needs to create.
I found it interesting that Snyder rarely refers back to his story board when he is writing his script.
Equally script writing is far more of a group exercise than novel writing. So there is more of a need for a central bible.
Also sometimes, it can be useful to know why you are writing certain types of scenes or what the vague missing element is.
I understand he is speaking at the RWA Nationals. It will be interesting to see what people make of him. I suspect he is fantastic in person.
But McKee, Swain and Maass remain my favourite books.

3 comments:

Donna Alward said...

Anne is to blame for a lot of your book buying, and you pay that forward by getting ME hooked!

I have 15 pages to go on the Tharp. I simply had to go to bed last night.

Anne McAllister said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anne McAllister said...

I don't mind shouldering all this blame as long as you guys all write terrific books as a result! And of course, you do.

I found Snyder helpful when I looked at what I had for my story I'd just pitched (and they'd said yes to) and seeing where there were still big holes I needed to fill.

I agree, Michelle, it's whatever speaks to you. Tharp speaks to me. Snyder, to an extent, speaks to me as well. So does Vogler and so does Swain. McKee, um, less so. My fault, not his. We're just not talking the same language.