One book I highly recommend for anyone writing a novel (or a screenplay) is Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder. Originally meant as a guide to writing screenplays that sell, I have found that the book applies just as much to the art of novel-writing. This is because the bulk of the book is about storytelling and story structure.
You can find the book here on Amazon. I don’t have an affiliate link (though maybe I should set that up.)
Anyhoo, the reason I found this book so extremely helpful is because of the BS2, the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet. Throughout his years of experience as a screenwriter, the author, Blake Snyder, came to realize that all stories, at least all the stories that sold, followed the same structure.
- Opening Image
- Theme Stated
- Break into Two
- B Story
- Fun and Games
- Bad Guys Close In
- All Is Lost
- Dark Night of the Soul
- Break into Three
- Final Image
In the book, Snyder discusses what each of these beats means, and he even gives guidelines for which page these beats need to happen on in a typical 110-page screenplay (which is a 110-minute movie.) If you’ve spent any time writing stories, you’ll already be familiar with many of these beats, which follow the standard story structure of introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, conclusion. Snyder also discusses the different genres of stories, but they’re not what you’d think.
I don’t want to give too much away here and I highly encourage everyone to check out the Save the Cat website or grab a copy of the book. If you are a planner like me, then this is an excellent guide to help you structure your novel. And pretty soon, you’ll start to recognize all these beats in many of the novels and movies you see and read. It’s one of those things that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And that’s okay, it doesn’t mean that your story is unoriginal, or that other stories or movies are, it just means that even in the art of storytelling, there is a winning formula to telling a great story.
Since reading and absorbing Save the Cat, it’s been easier to spot problems in movies as well. Ever finish a book or a movie and not like it but couldn’t quite put your finger on why exactly you felt it missed the mark? Well, it probably didn’t follow the above structure to storytelling very well.
In describing the above beats, Snyder also talks about the various characters and how they need to develop throughout the story. For example, the opening image and the final image need to be polar opposites of each other. If your opening image is your protagonist doing or saying one thing, then the final image needs to show the protagonist doing or saying the opposite thing. This is because the protagonist needs to develop and change over the course of the story, otherwise why are we interested in their life at that moment at all? So the Beat Sheet isn’t just about structure, it’s also about character, because structure naturally intertwines with and is driven by what your characters are doing and going through.
I think whether you’re writing a sci-fi like I am, or a fantasy, or a literary piece, this guide will help you understand how stories must be set up and how characters must develop over time.
It’s been a great help to me, and I’m sure it will be a great help to others too.