1. Neuron
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    Neuron New Member

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    Plotting with Blake Snyder's Save the Cat Beat Sheet structure?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Neuron, Jun 7, 2016.

    I know this is largely for screenwriters but did anybody have any success with your novel using this plotting template?
    I would love to hear your experiences.
     
  2. DeadMoon
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    DeadMoon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have read that it is a decent guild line for screenwriters as well as novels. It seems like that is true, and similar to most other "outline" methods.
     
  3. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Personally, I find that perhaps Snyder's sheet is too mechanical in it's structure. I mean for example, take the 'midpoint'. This is suppose to be a false victory or a tragedy for the time being in the story.

    But how do the characters know to make a decision that would lead to a false victory, or a tragedy, pretty much halfway into the story? What if that character would naturally do something else entirely, leading to no 'midpoint', at all? At least not the kind he describes.

    I think that Snyder should talk about what the characters would do here and there, compared to what should happen STRUCTURE WISE, if that makes sense.

    And he says that one should present the theme before the catalyst. But what if the theme, comes out of the catalyst? Then you have to wait for the catalyst to happen first.

    I think his structure may be too mechanical, but that is just my assessment of it, and I am not an advanced writer yet.
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2016
  4. NiallRoach
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    NiallRoach Contributing Member

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    The characters know nothing; you make the decision. Either you make it happen or you don't. If they never make false turns, you don't have much in the way of tension, do you?
     
  5. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Yep for sure. They can make false turns, but I don't see how you can structure a story in a way that those false turns would come at a midpoint climax, and at a second act climax. I think they would just come when they would naturally come, whenever that may be.
     
  6. NiallRoach
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    NiallRoach Contributing Member

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    You make them happen at those points by putting more or less stuff in the bits between.
    These structures have been nailed down over a very long time, such that following them can't send you too wrong.

    Unless you're writing some bizarre transcendental piece, which is very rare.
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    You certainly don't have to follow the structure, but there are so many stories that do follow the structure, or something very close to it, that saying it can't be done ("I don't see how you can structure a story..." etc) doesn't make much sense. People structure stories this way all the time. It's not the exclusive way to do it, but it's not hard to use either.
     
  8. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Oh okay, the way I write stories so far, I find myself not usually following the structure. For example in my current story the catalyst comes before the theme, since the theme comes out of it.

    And their is no second act climax (all is lost), cause the characters did not naturally come to one. Instead there is more set up for the third act so far. Is that bad or incorrect?
     
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I view these structures as designed to produce a particular type of (generally generic, commercial) output. If you don't write that way, don't worry about it. Just write your story the way you want. Nothing wrong with that.
     
  10. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    That's true. Perhaps I find the commercial output to be more difficult to write cause the plot has to make sense, but you still have to somehow bend it to fit a structure. But maybe this is a good thing, although more difficult, cause the structure is more popular.

    Me and some friends watched two movies this weekend. One had a complete three act structure story much like Snyder's beat sheet, down to the T. The other movie (the one I picked), did whatever it felt it needed to do, to go where the characters and ideas wanted to.

    I felt that the first movie was too generic and predictable for me, and liked the second one a lot better. But my friends didn't like the second one saying that it went to way too far off the rails in how it was plotted out. I think they had a problem with the structure. So perhaps Snyder's structure is has more popularity to aspire to.
     
  11. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I used it to plot my WIP. I did combine it with some other things, though, and didn't pay very close attention to the number of pages between each beat. That way lies madness, IMHO, and since I'm not writing a screenplay, I don't think it's as critical to hit a certain page with a certain beat.

    The biggest ah-ha! I got from Snyder was the Fun & Games beat. No other book on storytelling, whether for screen or novel, even talks about how to keep a story interesting between the first turning point and the mid-point. But, Blake did. And what he said makes a lot of sense to me. I work very hard at exploiting F&G because the rest, for me at least, just falls into place if I have a good logline.

    And speaking of loglines, what he said about them gave me a whole different perspective on what makes a good story. If I can't get the idea across in less than 50 words, I keep going until I can or just toss it and move on to the next idea. It takes longer that way, but it's worth it. I can't begin to count the number of stories I abandoned before reading Snyder's book because I didn't do something like this up front.

    As to what I combined it with, I came up with a science fiction/horror/comedy template of my own that incorporates the beat sheet from Save the Cat! with the elements of horror laid out by Karen Woodward in her article, How to Write a Horror Story. I coupled those with pointers from Comedy Writing Secrets and my own experiences doing two years of summer stock theatre in the wilds of cottage country here in Ontario. During the latter, I learned from one of the best, a ex-pat American actor named Barry Lambeck, master of slapstick, timing and goofy facial expressions.
     
  12. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can answer that. It's what we'd call in common parlance: going off half-cocked. The MC thinks he knows how to defeat the antagonist, but since he hasn't faced his demons yet (see: Dark Night of the Soul) he really doesn't know how to defeat him because he's still ignoring something within himself that needs to be fixed.

    Ah! But characters will always do something stupid at some point in the story and so you might as well put it at the Mid-point. Stories that stand out, the ones we remember long after we've read them, are always about a character learning to get out of their own way in order to accomplish a goal.

    You have to look at the character's emotional make-up to find the trigger mechanism that makes him do the stupid thing when the smart thing is right in front of him. It's overcoming this trigger and learning how to sidestep it that makes the Mid-point and the Dark Night of the Soul so important to the third act. At the Mid-point, he obeys the trigger and things go wrong. During the Dark Night of the Soul, he recognizes his stupid behaviour. And in the third act, he works out how to sidestep the trigger and win the day.

    Well, he actually does talk about what characters would do, but unfortunately, he does so only in the abstract in the first book. Try the second one, Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies. It gives examples and breaks them down.
     
  13. Sack-a-Doo!
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    In the second Save the Cat! book, he gives examples of movies where theme isn't stated until late in the first act or even well into the second. So, it is flexible. The structure he lays out is the ideal, but not necessarily something to be applied rigidly across the board.

    Not as such, but it doesn't give the story what Dwight V. Swain would call a valley, a place where you worry really hard for the characters. And if there's no major set back, the third act might feel like it's just more of the same from the second act. In other words, it'll start to feel flat and lifeless. It also doesn't give your character(s) a reason to gear up and pull out all the stops—balls to the wall kind of thing—to defeat an enemy they know is more than a match for them.
     
  14. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    That's true.

    When it comes to my own writing, I wanted the MC to do something stupid, and then have to correct himself in the Dark Knight of the Soul moment. However, everything I can think of for him to do that is stupid, paints him into a corner completely. The MC's plan and goal are so fragile, that many mistake, will cause it to crumble completely. So I thought maybe I should write it where he makes no mistakes after the midpoint, so the plan holds together. Or should he still make more mistakes after the midpoint, in order to have that dark knight of the soul moment?

    If so then I need to work on myself as a writer, as I have not been able to come up with mistakes to make that would crumble the goal entirely, since the goal itself is so fragile to reach.
     
  15. John Kirk
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    I can't speak to using the Save the Cat structure in novels, as I'm a game designer rather than a fiction writer. However, I did design a Storytelling game using Snyder's format. It works quite well for improvisational storytelling.

    I understand why some folks think his format is too formulaic. But, IMHO, you need to first understand the structure before you can break it effectively. And, if you're creating an improvisational storytelling game that can handle plotting, theme, and character development on the fly, a formulaic story structure like Blake Snyder's is exactly what you need.
     
  16. MichaelP
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    MichaelP Active Member

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    Plot and sex are simple things so don't overthink it. People have been doing plot (and sex) since the beginning of civilization and they've managed just fine without these modern methods.

    I've analyzed countless stories. In my opinion, plot is merely a series of "decision points." Throughout the story, the character periodically decides whether or not to continue and/or how best to continue. At the very least, you need a decision point at the climax, but the longer the story, the more you'll have. (Flash fiction may only have that one decision point, whereas a novel can have dozens.) At the same time, there needs to be a "chain" of conflict; for every good thing that happens to your character, have at least one or two bad things happen, and don't let him get out of those obstacles before first introducing one or two more obstacles. (Or, for every question raised, raise one or two more before answering it.) This is how you keep the reader in a constant state of suspense--which, when you think about it, is one of the main purposes of plot. :)

    An example:

    You want to write a short story about an astronaut on the moon. The moon base is a few kilometers away and he needs to drag his injured colleague all that distance. He's internally conflicted: He wants to save his colleague, but dragging him takes much time and he might not have enough air left for such a rescue. As he drags his colleague, and as you the author throw obstacles into his way, thus intensifying his internal conflict, you're making the reader subconsciously understand that the character is always making the deliberate choice to drag his friend along; it becomes more and more difficult to drag the colleague with each obstacle, and each obstacle provides a "decision point." The reader grasps that the protagonist is in charge of the plot and not an impassive victim. Then there will be some climactic moment--say, the protagonist realizes that he must either share some of his colleague's oxygen or abandon him--and whatever decision he makes, which is permanent, is where the story ends, more or less.

    No cats or beat sheets necessary.
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2016
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  17. Dilfill
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    Dilfill Member

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    I have read that book before and I do think it helps, to a point. However I also agree with MichaelP. I would recomend reading a book called STORY by Robert Mckee. When I finished that book I had a greater understanding of plot and all the other elements of story.
     
  18. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    A much, MUCH better template can be found at the blog "Story Fix" run by author and mentor Larry Brooks.

    His basic summary is like this:

    20% "First Plot Point" i.e. the stakes are set on the table and the "point of no return," whether literally or metaphorically, occurs.

    32-35% "Pinch Point 1" - a major brush with the antagonist, a reminder of what could happen if the MC doesn't succeed

    50% At the midpoint, the MC goes from simply reacting to things around them, to pulling together an agenda and plan of their own. Basically they go from playing a "defensive" to an "offensive" role (using those terms in a sports team way, not in terms of being defensive or offended personally)

    62-66% another "Pinch Point," like the one at the first 1/3 point, but more significant

    75-80% the main character now has all the info they need, and are moving towards the conflict.
     

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