I ran into this article the other day, and I couldn't help but notice my Agreement Meter rising as I read on. All too often I've seen resources available that are intended to guide experienced or fledgling writers through the craft of writing, how to do it, how to stay at it, etc.
There's some great resources out there, but few have had as big of an impact as Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Why's that? For starters, it's a screenwriting book which, according to the book's subtitle, is "the last book on screenwriting that you'll ever need." Since it hit the shelves in 2005, we started to notice a change in the delivery of the Hollywood blockbuster ... and film story in general. Turns out that since this book is centered on outlining a story (with a 15 step beat sheet), this could apply to any story, be in presented in a novel, a play, television, radio, you name it!
Before we knew it, we had lots of movies and novels that used this beat sheet as a guide that, more likely than not, aided in landing deals and discovering new talent that would have been left unexposed otherwise. A number of my author friends swear by it and have contributed part of their success to it.
I've taken a stab at it myself. In a way, it's an outline, and you have to fill in the beats. I've always been an outline writer, so what I got out of this book is when the elements are "supposed" to happen or when they "should be" introduced. While this is all and good, the bad thing about good things is people tend to jump on a good thing.
That means it's good right? For a limited time only, maybe ...
The article I mentioned details what I'm referring to. Now, when I go to the movies or read a new book, I can't help but feel an element of predictability. Yes, there are introductions, conflicts, rising action, climaxes, and so forth (all expected), but it feels more pointed, at times forced, much like messing with genetics to create an outcome rather than letting nature take its course, or focusing on a structure instead of the construction. Those who use the beat sheet as a guide (rather than the law) ultimately produce great stories. Thing is, we now have many stories that use this technique, and while it works, from what I'm seeing, some struggle with what to write between beats. Plot devices are randomly thrown in and the dialogue feels contrived - because that's WHEN it's "supposed" to happen.
I've always felt that the moment an external influence dictates what an artist does, some level of creativity is compromised. But wait, it even said in the book that it's a guide and not a rule book, but when something is toted as a "storytelling bible" and story structure software is created based on the beat sheet, you gotta wonder ...
This is just my thought on the matter. The key to a good story is execution - doesn't matter what style or structure. I'm by no means dissing this book or those who use it regularly, for the record. As a writer, I look for any tool I can get my hands on. The trick, at that point, is to use the tool in a way that only I can - the only way you can. Find ways to make it different from anything we've read or seen. That alone will help us develop a stand-out story to be proud of.
Open discussion time! I'd love to know what you think. Got to take off for now, so in case I don't see ya, have a fantastic weekend!
Does this structure run the risk of beating a tried and true formula to death? What does this mean for the future of storytelling? Do we expect books and movies to follow these beat now?
I'm David, it's about time we had an Aquaman movie ... right?