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Posts Tagged ‘rewriting’

  1. Book Review: Save the Cat!

    July 31, 2016 by Diane

    Save the Cat!

    As ye who follow this blog already know, I’m rewriting my first novel. It’s a manuscript I wrote one November as part of the National Novel Writing challenge—fifty thousand words in thirty days—all written by the seat of my pants.

    Not surprisingly, it’s fifty thousand words that don’t add up to a solid plot.

    After reading this plotless draft, I knew I had a lot of work ahead, but not a clue as to how to rewrite the mess. It had major problems, but I didn’t know specifically why.

    The ship was sinking, and I was ready to bail.

    Enter Blake Snyder.

    Blake Snyder was a successful screenwriter who wrote Save the Cat!, Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies, and Save the Cat! Strikes Back! If there’s anyone who knows anything about plot, it’s a successful screenwriter.

    “Save the Cat” is a term for the scene in the movie where, as Snyder puts it, “…we meet the hero and the hero does something—like saving a cat—that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him.”

    Blake Snyder’s secret to a successful story.

    Snyder realized that every great screenplay can be broken down into fifteen “beats.” These beats set up the story, force the hero to change, and propel the hero to the moment of win, lose, or draw. Without these beats, the screenplay lacks a spine, lacks a character arc, lacks a compelling story.

    Each beat occurs at set points in the script, and Snyder pins it down to the specific pages, starting with the opening image, down to the final moment, with all the turning points in between. He even came up with a beat sheet that we can all use to “beat out” our story.

    But what’s the story about?

    Good question. If you haven’t nailed the answer, you can’t beat out the plot. Snyder gives clues to help writers narrow down the theme and then come up with a solid “logline” that sums up the story in one sentence. Once the writer has a grasp of the theme and the logline, it’s a matter of mapping out the beats, and breaking the beats into scenes.

    At last! A map to the treasure!

    Now I knew what to look for, and where to look. To plot my novel, I asked myself:

    • Is the opening image opposite from the closing image?
    • Is the theme stated on page X?
    • Did I set up the hero’s world on pages X – XX?
    • Is there a moment that changes that world, and a moment when the hero makes a conscious choice to change course?
    • Is there a clear shift into Acts II and III?
    • Do the “bad guys close in,” is there a “dark moment of the soul,” do I reveal a solution to stories A and B?

    And so on…

    I know, sounds like a lot to take in. But Snyder simplifies the process. He gives examples from real movies. I recommend that you do what I did: with beat sheet in hand, and some DVDs of movies in the genre you’re writing, map the beats. They’re all there, just like Snyder promised.

    As I read Save the Cat!, light bulbs went off in my brain. All of this applies to novel writing! Just change the page numbers for each beat to match the number of pages in the novel I’m rewriting. 


    Enter Jessica Brody.

    On her site, she provides a template you can download for novelists. Fill in the number of words your novel will be, and the template automatically updates the page numbers to correspond with Blake Snyder’s fifteen beats.

    But what if you’re a pantser, not a plotter?

    As a seat-of-the-pants writer, am I selling out by following something that sounds formulaic? Here’s the way I look at it: a jazz musician improvises on a melody in a specific key; a dancer improvises based on the music. The form is the bowl that holds whatever recipe we dream up and whip together.

    Just get the book!

    I can’t recommend Save the Cat! highly enough. No matter where you are in the process of writing a novel or script—from first draft to rewrite—trust me, Blake Snyder is the guide you want for your journey.

    In fact, buy all three books. Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies gives a complete breakdown of the fifteen beats for movies, by genre, for “every story ever told.” Save the Cat! Strikes Back! elaborates on the process of building scenes, and offers a slew of advice for when you get into trouble.

  2. Rewriting: Making the Commitment

    July 24, 2016 by Diane

    hand opening red curtain on white.

    When we commit to a thing—a relationship, a project, a way of life, a new habit—there comes a time when the road gets rocky. There comes a time when we want to walk away, call it quits. “It’s too hard!” we say. “I can’t do it! This isn’t what I expected!”

    Those statements may be true, but unless the relationship/project/action is a threat to our mental or physical well-being, commitment means staying engaged, no matter what.

    Rewriting a book is like having a relationship with a person. You get acquainted, you check for strengths and weaknesses, you get feedback from others, and you either walk away or take the relationship to the next level.

    But first, you meet.

    The project begins

    Someday, I want to publish a book. The book I publish might not be the one I’m working on now, behind the writer’s curtain. Similar to marriage, if we’re lucky, we land the right guy or girl the first time we date. But usually, it takes a few practice relationships before we develop the skills to forge a lasting bond. It takes dating some bozos before we attract the best match. But that doesn’t mean all those clowns are a waste of time. No! We learn something new with each relationship.

    I accept that this novel might be the practice one. I’m sharpening my skills. And it’s good to take the pressure off, knowing this is a learning experience. Once I mastered that mind-set, that I’m showing up every day, putting in my hours or minutes or whatever time I eek out to learn this craft of rewriting, then all that’s required is for me to make the effort.

    So, I carve out three days—Friday, Saturday and half of Sunday—to devote to my rewrite. First up: read the whole thing.

    As I read, I try not to futz. I resist the urge to straighten the collar and flick lint off the tie and pull up the socks. I just read.

    It’s been at least six months since I’ve looked at my manuscript. Plenty of time to have an unbiased viewpoint. Plenty of time to conclude I need to toss at least half. And not wince at the thought.

    “Okay, it has a pleasing voice, there’s something interesting here, but the front end needs work.”

    I’m able to make this assessment without cringing because I’m not in the throes of first love anymore. The rose colored glasses are off. With time, I’m able to see the flaws as a reader would, not as a writer. And that’s what we’re doing in this first reacquaintance with our manuscript. Reading as a reader.

    So far, so good.

    The project stalls

    After checking out my novel, it’s time to start dating.

    When dating, we get to know each other. We get a closer look at what this person is all about. What is this person’s history? Is there a turning point in their life that affected them? What crises has this person been through, how do they deal with problems, and how evolved are they?

    It’s the same when looking at our manuscript.

    We’re looking for structure, for character arcs. We’re looking for plot points or beats or whatever method we’re using to shore up our story. This is the getting-to-know-you stage: Is there a foundation here, a story, or is it a series of incidents with no conflict? We wouldn’t settle for a boring relationship. A reader won’t settle for a novel where nothing happens.

    At the dating stage, we might need to lower the bar. This guy isn’t Brad Pitt, this girl isn’t Angelina Jolie, but hey, they’ve got a beating heart, right? And they’re decent, and successful on some level, and worth spending time with.

    Well, this novel of mine has a beating heart, but it’s faint, somewhere in the middle. And it’s not bad; I mean it’s not like a third-grader wrote it. The voice is strong at times, and there’s sorta a story in there somewhere, and it’s successful in the sense that I got a first draft down. That’s something, right?

    But first, I need to know what this story is about.

    “Well, it’s about this beatnik who…”

    “It’s about…”


    Trouble. I’m in deep doo-doo. I can’t get a handle on what the piece is about. I ponder. I rack my brain. I bang my head on the desk trying to shake something loose. A premise.

    “Maybe I should choose one of my other novels. One that’s a whole lot clearer.”

    Week one, and I’m ready to throw in the towel. Surprised? Not likely. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I’m a self-confessed commitment-phobic. The act of agreeing to do anything permanently makes me feel like I need to breathe into a paper bag.

    But wait…I vowed to commit to finishing this rewrite, right? Last week I blabbed it to the world. Or at least to sixty people.

    “Maybe they’ve forgotten,” I tell myself. “Maybe I’ll hang up the Gone Fishing sign and go outside and play instead. They’ll never know.”

    These are the thoughts that rattle around my brain. As they rattle, no premise breaks loose.

    The project resumes

    And then comes this reminder…

    It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just choose something. Anything. You can always rework it. Like a sculptor with clay, you keep at it until the shape comes through. Look at this as practice, not like you’re writing The Great American Novel.

    And just like that, the pressure is gone. Poof!

    Like any good relationship, rewriting a novel takes effort. It takes willingness to stick it out during the easy times and the rough, because—surprise, surprise—it ain’t all smooth sailing.

    That’s where vows come in—a reminder not to walk way.

    So, in the spirit of taking that final step, I am officially inviting you to witness my joining of self to novel. Gifts will be accepted after the ceremony.

    I, Diane, promise to show up at the writing chair every day, even when I don’t feel like showing up, even when I’d rather be reading, or eating a chocolate truffle from See’s, or cleaning my refrigerator. I promise to remind myself how I love writing, though at times it feels akin to having my toenails peeled back. I promise to honor the process, reminding myself that all writers get stuck and want to give up, that we’re all constantly honing our craft, trying to become the best writers we can be. And I promise to respect my work, even when it stinks—especially when it stinks—because it’s part of becoming a better writer.

    Takeaway this week:

    Do you have a project you’re committed to doing? Try writing your own vows. Post them as a reminder. Make a ceremony out of it; invite family and friends. Insist on gifts.

    Okay,  maybe not gifts.

    Just chocolate.

  3. Afraid of Commitment? Join the Challenge!

    July 17, 2016 by Diane

    Yikes! Commitment.

    Yikes! Commitment.

    I have commitment issues.

    My wise friend pointed this out over lunch at the sushi place. I was forking my way through a super vegetable roll while rattling on about blogging.

    “I’ll blog when I have something to say, and not because the powers-that-be suggest that I blog to attract followers or build a writer’s platform,” I said. “I’ll blog just for the hell of it and okay, maybe I’m taking the middle road, but I don’t know if this whole blogging thing is what I want to do anymore.”

    And my friend, carefully placing a slice of pickled ginger on her salmon roll with her chopsticks, said, “What I see is, you start a project and then skid to a stop. You have a problem with commitment.”

    I allowed myself to take that in. I resisted the urge to fold my arms, gaze at the corner of the ceiling with a thoughtful frown, and zone out on the live poker-playing event on the overhead television.

    Instead, I agreed.

    I have a commitment phobia.

    From actress to dancer to writer, I reached a tipping point and then slammed on the brakes.

    I studied acting and dance, acted and danced on stage, taught others how to act and dance, and then chucked it all to write.

    I’ve written first drafts for four-and-a-half novels, and when I started to rewrite the first one, I hit the wall.

    Marriage? Forget it. Children? As long as they’re not mine. Vacations? It depends. How far, and for how long?

    I’ve been known to buy fifteen different kinds of shampoo because one smells nice and one is for curly hair and one is for dry hair and one is for fine hair, and…well, you get the point.

    Sleep? Too boring. What if I’m missing something important? What if there’s something else I should be doing?

    What if I choose the wrong guy, the wrong project, the wrong whatever?

    Driving home that day after sushi, I was sitting at a stoplight, and I thought about gravity. I thought:

    We’re spinning in space. Right now.

    I thought about how the Earth is tilted on its axis and we’re spinning ever so slowly in a vast universe.

    What if gravity decided to stop doing its job? What if it decided it didn’t want to commit to pulling everything toward it, and wanted more space?

    There would be consequences, that’s what. We’d all spin into infinite darkness and vaporize. I had a tingle of discomfort in my spine, thinking about that. I had to go home and lie down and ponder.

    And I’ve concluded that it’s a good thing, commitment. I’m grateful to gravity for its commitment to hold us to its breast.

    That’s a step in the right direction. Being grateful.

    My boss, I’m fairly certain, is grateful that I show up for work and get my job done. My muse is grateful that I allow her to play in the first draft. But my editor is knocking at the door, wanting to clear the clutter, and he’s mighty pissed that I’m lying on the bed gazing at the ceiling.

    The fact is, I can’t even commit to avoiding commitment.

    After all, I commit to watching America’s Got Talent every Tuesday night. I commit to reading an entire book, buying groceries, cleaning the shower and showing up for work.

    But something creative…that’s when the problem kicks in.

    So, here’s the deal.

    I’m going to commit to rewriting my novel. And blog about it so I’m held accountable. It might take six months, it might take a year. But I’m going to face this thing head-on, and when the fear rises, I’ll use my mindfulness training, my cognitive behavior therapy, my humor to overcome it. And I’ll let you, dearest reader, in on what transpires, in case you have commitment issues as well.

    It won’t be easy. I see roadblocks ahead: fear of failure, anxiety about feeling boxed in, agitation about all the effort involved.

    Doesn’t matter. I’ll find a way to work through those blocks, or scoot around them, or I’ll kick those suckers down. For better or worse I’m going to rewrite my novel.

    Do you want to join me in this challenge? Do you want to be my commitment phobia-busting buddy? Let me know in the comments. What will you commit to doing?