I wrote The End on the first draft of My One True Love last week. Yay! me. This week, I’m reading the printed manuscript and making notes, timelines, recording names of places and characters, and crossing out excessive narrative and adverbs, etc., on the way to compiling a list of revisions I’ll translate into the draft, before handing it off to Beta Readers. While I’m taking notes, I’m also comparing my story’s beats to those recommended in, Save The Cat! Writes a Novel, by Jessica Brody.
I bought this book following a telephone conversation with my editor. She advised me that when she started out in publishing, some twenty-five years ago, Save The Cat! by Blake Snyder was the editing Bible she and her Editor colleagues relied on to hone their craft to enable them to help writers craft stronger stories. And when an editor drops something like that in your lap, you seize it, embrace it, and cherish it like the precious gift it is. You make it your Bible. Even if you’ve been writing for decades. Even when you think you understand the need to amp conflict and push characters to the breaking point. Even when you have at least a dozen different books on writing on your shelves. Even when you’re not sure you’ll learn anything you haven’t already learned in all the hundreds of hours you’ve spent absorbing craft tips and tricks in a variety of seminars taught by a prestigious faculty of best-selling authors, top-rated literary agents, and exalted editors. Because you will. Because you do.
You will learn more.
You do learn more.
Writing the first draft of story, for me, is like going on a first date. A wee bit intimidating and whole lot of uncertainty about how things will turn out.
Will it be a fabulous evening of mutual laughter and attraction capped by a tender goodnight kiss, or an excruciating encounter marked by awkward silences and crushing desire to sweep the napkin off one’s lap, toss it in the dinner plate and excuse one’s self to the ladies room and then hare off in a cab home? One never knows when she sits down to face a blank screen with only a mental vision of, often only a single character, and the knowledge there needs to be a Happy Ever After. And even when the book’s written, a sloppy, gooey, oozing off the edges of the Potter’s wheel lump of clay, there’s momentary panic at the prospect of spinning and carving it to something smooth, sculpted, and recognizable. Beautiful. That’s where Save The Cat! Writes a Novel rides in to save the day.
I’ve discovered that, whether through design or mere blind luck, my story hits many of the required beats, often within the recommended percentage. I’ve also discovered I’ve a lot more work to do. Which excites me.
Like an old-West wagon trail map, Save The Cat! marks staging points to the ultimate destination. From the opening image, to the Dark Night of the Soul, to the long-fought for heart-warming or victorious ending, there is a definite expectation of novels or movie scripts that many of us instinctively understand, even if we don’t know or immediately recognize the moments. But, like stairs on a moving escalator, they carry us forward, upward, to that glorious finale.
I’m nowhere near that glorious finale. I’m still deciding how much clay to leave on the wheel. But, as I dig a finger here and palm a section there, at least I have another tool in my arsenal. One handed me by the very editor that will later work her trade-craft on my story. And crazy as it sounds, I’m absolutely looking forward to that.
Take your needle, my child, and work on your pattern; it will come out a rose by and by. Life is like that; one stitch at a time taken patiently, and the pattern will come out all right, like embroidery.
~Oliver Wendell Holmes