Can “Save The Cat” save my screenplay?

I've been saving this one for years, but it hasn't helped anything yet....

The first half of this year has been a bit odd. Not in a “Two-headed dog” kind of way, but because I’ve concentrated a lot of effort in writing and publicising this blog. It’s been fun, developing a network of fellow bloggers, meeting people on purpose by commenting on their blogs, and meeting people by accident through blog strings or comments. While I know my parents would think that’s all plenty odd, that wasn’t what I was thinking about. It’s odd because this blog is meant to be my shopfront, my public face, the place where I promote my plays. That’s what it’s all about, telling people I’m a playwright, that I write good plays that community theatre groups would enjoy performing. Plays that have won awards.

The odd bit is that, thanks to this tireless work on my blog, I haven’t actually written any new plays, as such. I’ve chipped in my required scenes for the latest TLC Pantomime, “Snow White and the Magnificent Seven”, but even there I was slower than usual.

Of course, it’s easy to blame the blog, but maybe it’s something more sinister. A lot of blogs about writing discuss writer’s block. It’s a bit like the Loch Ness Monster, I think. Some folks believe in it absolutely, can tell you the history of it, show you their photographs. Others deny it exists and won’t hear anything to the contrary.

A one-in-a-million shot, I know : who do you know that still wears a cagoul?

I keep telling Mrs Dim that I’m not bothered. That if something occurs to me and I want to write it, then I’ll write it. But time’s gone by and I’ve reviewed dozens of other people’s scripts for my publisher, run others through the Script Appraisal Service, and seen friends like Richard James produce two full length plays (good ones, curse him!) in the time I’ve written…er…well, a couple of cheques and a lot of shopping lists.

And there is something I want to write. Something I’ve been wanting to write for around five years now. But it’s not a play, or a pantomime, or a sketch. It’s a screenplay. And I really, really want to get it right.

More than any other type of writing, screenplays have rules. There’s the format, where you put the character names, what gets put in CAPS, the stupid typewriter font you HAVE to use or be cast into outer darkness. There’s the mysterious three act structure, the beats, the scenes, you mustn’t give camera directions, don’t use more than four lines of descriptions, more dialogue than direction, on and on and on and on.

I’ve read about five good books on screenplay writing. They all made sense, right up until the moment when I tried to use their advice to write the story I was thinking of. My story was already too complete to fit their model, and I was too set, too determined to allow any changes. That’s why, after five years, I only have two drafts, and the second one drifts off into drivel.

Blake Snyder is my last chance. It’s a lot to ask of someone who died two years ago, but his books live on, and they’re friendly and encouraging and THEY MAKE SENSE. I’m reading “Save the Cat!”, his first book, and I think the combination of good advice, friendly tone and five years of bending the story back and forth may finally allow me to rebuild it according to Blake’s model.

I really hope so. The ever-saintly Lucy V Hay was kind enough to report on the first ten pages of draft two and called it a “very original” idea. From someone who reads scripts for a living, that’s high praise. It’s a little late in the day to be making New Year’s Resolutions (and you know what I think of them anyway – see here) but I’d like to end this year with a shiny new draft of “Tribute”, written with the posthumous help of Blake Snyder.

Ask me how I got on in January, will you?

What project has taken you the longest? Do ideas age like fine wine, or do they go rotten like old running shoes left in the schoolbag over the summer? My e-book “Writing a play for community theatre” only took a year from beginning to end, even though you could probably read it in an afternoon. If you’d like to read it in an afternoon, why not download a copy from the TLC website?

15 responses to “Can “Save The Cat” save my screenplay?

  1. I’m beginning to feel like Mr. Holland. It has been nearly three years now since I started my opus, Moonfire. Another year or two might go by while I work on getting the experience I need to do it right.

    Maybe you could just set a very tiny goal like writing for ten minutes, doing something else and then maybe writing for ten minutes? You might try some of those sites that give prompts. You know, to flex the writing muscle a bit? Best wishes to you.

    • Tiny goals sound like a good idea, Angela. I’ve just spent ten minutes writing out the fifteen “beats” that Blake recommends you use as a guide to help plan your story. If I continue to creep things along, instead of famine and feast, I may get there!

  2. If it’s breaking all the rules, do you think it wants to be something else, like a novel? Or is it just that plays are ingrained in you? I’m just wondering, I’ve no clue about writing either one.

    For me, I’ve had a novel in my head for ten years, changing shape in there all the while. I don’t know if I’m too lazy to pull it out, or too scared that I’ll try and it will stink. Okay, it’s the stink part.

    • Fear is a big part of it, isn’t it? I’ve always been rubbish at getting to the end. Characters ramble, unneccessary scenes insist on being included, plotlines split and multiply…. The problem with this monster is that I conceived it as a tv drama, around sixty minutes, so it’s not quite got enough legs for a movie. (The tv option isn’t really an option either….) So I have to re-write the story, which I hate and find very difficult. But I will, because the alternative is letting it go and I love the central idea too much for that.
      Don’t abandon your novel unwritten. It can change shape as you write it too. There have been times whe I have enjoyed discovering a story more through writing one than reading one.

  3. I have Save the Cat on my desk to read after Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. I can’t wait to hear what you think, D!

    What project has taken me the longest? My first novel! My new goal is to crank out 2-3 a year – and then maybe convert to a screenplay? Something you could teach me?

    • I’m really loving “Save The Cat!”. There’s no getting away from it being a screenplay-building book, but the rules would hold for a novel too – engage your readers, lay out the theme, show them the normal world and why it has to change, make sure your protagonist has a definable arc…..All these things are true for a good novel too, you just have more time to lay them down. Blake gives a list of pages that your screenplay should hit. I’ve got the page numbers down, now I just have to fill in the rest…..

  4. Hey Nessie is alive and well. She’s rooming with Ogopogo in Lake Okanagan 🙂

    I’ve not read the book yet, another on the teetering pile to be read, but I’m applying the beats to the fantasy piece I’m now working on. I believe Snyder has the pages broken down based on a 110 page screenplay so I just multiplied that to fit the target page count for my WiP and adjusted the page guidelines accordingly.

    • Hey Raelyn! I’ve been to both lakes (well, the lake and the Loch) and I didn’t see either of them….Maybe each time I went, the one I went to see was visiting the other?
      Let me know how your adaptation of Blake’s beats works for you. I’m struggling right at the beginning, trying to decide if a selfish goal for my protagonist is going to prevent audiences connecting with him. I like him because he’s my protagonist, but we both know how much that’s worth, right? I think I’m going to ask the WANA community for their opinions too….

      • Haven’t seen Nessie myself 🙂 but Beloved Sis and I swear we saw Ogopogo when we were kids visiting the grandparents in West Bank.

        WANA is full of awesomesauce!

  5. Now I’m VERY jealous! Did you get any pictures?

  6. I feel your longing to “get it right”. I have been writing and re-writing and it NEVER seems right to me. I’m at a point right now where I’m unsure what to write anymore. Can’t land an agent. Don’t seem to have the ‘gift’ or what-have-you. I’m going back to non-fiction but the passion is just not there for the worlds I create in fiction.

    It’s just frustrating all around. Yearning for something that is so far away…

    I commend you for writing screenplays. I have tried in the past but it is very, very difficult. Good luck and God bless!

  7. I have a story I’ve been working on, leaving alone, and mulling over for two years now – maybe more. I have the story written – too much of it. Half of the story doesn’t need to be there and it doesn’t read or flow well because of it. But, while I mull over how to modify it, I’ve completed a shorter work – mostly so I could feel like I was getting somewhere with my writing. I’ve completed that project and am almost ready to resume the longer one – almost, maybe, but not just yet. Maybe I’ll do another short one first…

  8. Damian,

    There are too many ongoing projects for me to list, but it does happen. Then one day, the way just opens to you and you write and write and write. I believe your screenplay will come to pass and IT WILL BE AMAZING.

    If anyone can help in the process, it is definitely Blake Snyder. I met him a few months before he died, and he is just as amazing in person.

  9. Keep fighting the good fight, my friend!

  10. Pingback: What’s on your e-reader? | Damian Trasler's Secret Blog – Do Not Read!

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