Unlock Your Inner Story

Photo: Unlock your inner story ...

They say, “Everyone has at least one good book in them” and while I think book might be a bit of a stretch, I wholeheartedly believe that everyone has at least one good story in them. The natural length—the pure story without padding or the encumbrance of unnecessary detail or description—of which can range from flash fiction (under 1,000 words) to short story (under 7,500 words) to novelette (7,500 to 17,500 words) to novella (17,500 to 40,000 words) to a proper novel (over 40,000 words).

No matter how non-creative you believe yourself to be, your brain is nonetheless gifted with the special ability of imagination, and regardless of how infrequently you put it to use, you still are able to dream up intricate realities, despite your age or IQ level. Haven’t we all, at one time or another, projected a new reality in our minds in the form of daydreaming our desires? And no two daydreams are exactly the same since we each possess unique preferences, points of view, wants and needs.

Yet, even armed with the knowledge of this gift, we, as writers, tend to suffer because we either do not fully believe in or properly comprehend our true nature as creators. Sure, we continue to imagine “what if” scenarios but sometimes we find it difficult to allow those thoughts to flow through us—the conduit—and blossom into the stories they need to become.

The following list isn’t a step-by-step “how to” guide, because no one can tell you precisely what you need to do to access your inner story. You are a totally unique entity, after all. View it more as a broom to help you sweep away the clutter piled up on the footpath to your personal tale.

1. Examine your self-image.

The first battle you must face is the one against your self-image. You are more than pen and paper, more than a keyboard, more than “just another writer” or more than whatever obstacle your past or conditioning has placed in your path. The main reason why most writers fail to connect with their inner story is because of their limited knowledge of who they truly are.

As flawed human beings we are so engrossed with the perceptions of who we are that we fail to see that we are usually the source for the reality we have created for ourselves. Sure, the walls of the prison may have been constructed by events of the past, by family, peers or environment, but we continue to fortify the walls and never once open the lock–the key is always in our possession–push the cell door to step out into freedom.

This in no way suggests you have to deconstruct your self-image–unless that’s your goal, then by all means, have at it. You’re merely peeling away the layers of the identity you’ve created for yourself for societal purposes and exposing your core self, the real you. Don’t worry, it’s only for the exercise of writing. You can reapply your layers once you’re done.

Your secret identity is safe with me.

2. Take note of your gifts.

Different from writer traits–talent, the hunger for knowledge, and diligence–a writer’s gift can range from an eye for detail, to a flair for description, to a talent for dialogue. Or, you might not even be aware of your talents, so I want you to grab a piece of paper and something to write with and in 60 seconds jot down a list of what you’re good at. Don’t think about it. Simply jot down, off the top of your head, the things that come easiest to you when you write.

All done? Now take a long, hard, honest look at your list. The things you don’t concentrate on, those bits and bobs that just sort of come naturally to you when you write… those are your gifts. You’d be surprised to discover how many writers aren’t aware of their innate skills because they aren’t utilized in their everyday work lives and wind up being placed in the “Hobby” category.

3. Exploit your strengths. 

Since you’re bothering to read this, my guess is that you’ve written a couple of pieces already and maybe even finished a few of them. Now, if you’re an avid reader, you will have no doubt compared your piece to your author idols, and have developed the brutally honest ability to cast a critical eye upon your own work and spot areas in your writing that aren’t as strong as others. And since the writing isn’t perfect, you are therefore a horrible writer who should no longer legally be allowed to string a sentence together in an email, let alone write a story.

Maybe it’s true. Maybe you really are a bad writer–hey, they exist–but that’s not my call to make. I don’t know you, so I’ll assume you at least have some fundamental writing potential. However, no matter how good you are, there is one basic truth you must learn to face: Your writing will never be perfect. Why? As stated in a previous post: Because wunderkind wasn’t conveniently inserted into your backstory, and perfection isn’t DNA-encodable at this point in time. Still, you should always strive to get your writing as close to perfection as you can manage, and accept the fact that: It. Will. Not. Be. Perfect.

Maybe you can’t write a convincing love scene. Maybe you struggle with organic dialogue. Maybe you get stumped when attempting to create a character’s internal arc. Maybe you’re rubbish at tying up all your story’s loose threads. Console yourself in the knowledge that you wouldn’t be the first. A few of these “weaknesses” and more are true for authors of published works, some of which even make bestseller lists.

And because, as a writer, you are always a student and ever pushing yourself and learning new ways to hone your craft, you will eventually learn to strengthen your weaknesses. In the meantime, put all of the aspects of your writing into perspective, make a deal to stop beating yourself up so much, and focus on your strengths. They’re your “A” game.

4. Gird your loins against the enemy.

In addition to dealing with possible self-image barriers, there are other obstacles that can block your path: Fear, intimidation, procrastination, and self-doubt. The problem with these buggers is that they often take the form of lies you tell yourself. And they happen to be effective as hell because they insulate your brain from facing unpleasantries, in this case the difficult portions of the writing process that you need to slog through in order to strike gold.

The biggest lie you can tell yourself as a writer is, “I’ll do it later.” It’s a dishonest postponement because later never comes. If you don’t confront the enemies that keep you from your writing and tamp the bastards down long enough to complete your piece, then you don’t have what it takes to be a writer. Staring into the gaping maw of the harsh realities that terrify you is one of the most important parts of the process.

Slap a “H” on your chest and “Handle” it.

5. Identify your genre.

At this point, you arch an eyebrow and ask, “Rhyan, how can anyone not know the genre of their story?”

The answer lies within the fact that writers are creators. Some are resistant to the notion of placing labels or classifications on their work. For others, classification difficulties arise when their piece contains elements from several genres as some writers disagree with the act of limiting creative freedom in order to adhere to strictly delineated genre segregation.

For your audience, knowing the genre sets not only the stage, but their expectations as well, and puts them in the proper mindset to both understand and accept the rules of your story.

At this stage in the process, the importance of identifying your genre has to do with story mechanics. Certain elements step to the forefront and operate differently depending on genre, so you should be aware of the rules of the category–even if you decide to break them because of the maverick you are–as you’re arranging your idea into the proper story structure (see: Simple Anatomy of a Plot Outline).

6. Plant your feet firmly in the soil of your story.

This is your story. First and foremost, it must feel natural to you. No matter how fantastical the environment, how outrageous the yarn you’re spinning, if you don’t feel confident in the pocket dimension you’ve created, there’s little chance of you selling the story as being credible. Your job is to take utter nonsense and portray it with as much authenticity as possible.

7. Go with your gut.

Some people seek permission to write. Thinly disguised under the “Oh, it’s just an idea I’m toying with” veil, they will ask family and friends if they should write about such-and-such or if this-that-or-the-other-thing would make an interesting topic.

I urge you not to be this person.

I’m reminded of a quote by Jerome Lawrence, “The whole point of writing is to have something in your gut or in your soul or in your mind that’s burning to be written.” So, if you can actually feel inspiration or instinct churning like hot snakes in your gut to write, forget the opinions of those around you, disregard the idea of “should” and just go for it.

Never live with regret, if you can help it.

8. Do it now. No better time than the present. 

To snatch a line from Pixar’s Ratatouille “Why not here? Why not now?”

By now you know you must show up for writing everyday, and there’s no time like the present. So, why not find yourself a quiet spot, practice listening, and trust what you hear. That’s your inner story talking to you, and it not only has to be unlocked but it must be accessible at will.

I know it’s become hackneyed to instruct you to follow your bliss, but if you deny your instincts to do what you truly want to do, then the problem becomes one of trust. Do you trust the voice within you or do you trust reality as you are made to perceive it? Or, are you willing to trust the voice and write what you hear, no matter how crazy it sounds?

You have to learn to be compassionate with yourself, as well as having compassion for yourself. Especially during the vulnerable times when you’re blocked and can’t bring yourself to write because you’re scared you’ll be rejected. Take some small comfort in knowing you’re not alone in this.

Since all art must be criticized, every single published author had to overcome fear of rejection. What you need to keep in mind is that your audience–human, just the same as you–can only relate to your writing from their own experience, and sometimes their feedback will be negative. That doesn’t necessarily indicate problems in your writing, and may simply reflect a varying viewpoint.

But fear of rejection has no business rearing its ugly head right now as it’s time for you to honor your inner story by listening to the words it shares with you and writing about it. Trust me, if you’re willing to enjoy the process, you can write damn near anything.

So, why not sally forth and be inner story writeful?

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Advertisements

Famous Thoughts on Grammar and Usage

1. “You can be a little ungrammatical if you come from the right part of the country.” — Robert Frost

2. “Word has somehow got around that the split infinitive is always wrong. That is a piece with the outworn notion that it is always wrong to strike a lady.” — James Thurber

3. “It is indeed acceptable practice to sometimes split an infinitive. If infinitive-splitting makes available just the shade of meaning you desire or if avoiding the separation creates a confusing ambiguity or patent artificiality, you are entitled to happily go ahead and split!” — Richard Lederer

4. “When you catch an adjective, kill it.” — Mark Twain

5. “The adjective is the banana peel of the parts of speech.” — Clifton Fadiman

6. “The adjective is the enemy of the noun.” — Voltaire

7. “If the noun is good and the verb is strong, you almost never need an adjective.” — J. Anthony Lukas

8. “Don’t say it was ‘delightful’; make us say ‘delightful’ when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers ‘Please will you do my job for me?’” — C.S. Lewis

9. “Forward motion in any piece of writing is carried by verbs. Verbs are the action words of the language and the most important. Turn to any passage on any page of a successful novel and notice the high percentage of verbs. Beginning writers always use too many adjectives and adverbs and generally use too many dependent clauses. Count your words and words of verbal force (like that word “force” I just used).” — William Sloane

10. “The editorial ‘we’ has often been fatal to rising genius; though all the world knows that it is only a form of speech, very often employed by a single needy blockhead.” — Thomas Baington Macaulay

11. “Only presidents, editors and people with tapeworm have the right to use the editorial ‘we.’” — Mark Twain

Writing Joke of the Day: Comforting a Grammar Nazi

Q: What do you say when you are comforting a grammar nazi?
A: There, Their, They’re

English Professor

“In English,” he said, “A double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative.”

A voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah, right.”

Library

A Texan was visiting Harvard University, and was lost. He stopped a student and asked, “Do you know where the library is at?”

“I sure do,” replied the student, “But, you know, you’re not supposed to end sentences with prepositions.”

“What?”

“Prepositions. You ended your sentence with an ‘at’, which you aren’t supposed to do.”

“Oh, ok,” said the Texan, “Do you know where the library is at, asshole?”

Grammar walks into a Bar

Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar. They sit. They Drink. They Leave

A comma splice walks into a bar, it has a drink and then leaves.

A dangling modifier walks into a bar. After finishing a drink, the bartender asks it to leave.

A Question mark walks into a bar?

Two Quotation marks “walk into” a bar.

A gerund and an infinitive walk into a bar, drinking a drink.

The bar was walked into by the passive voice.

The past, the present, and the future walked into a bar. It was tense.

A synonym ambles into a pub.

A gerund and an infinitive walk into a bar, drinking to drink.

A hyperbole totally ripped into this bar and destroyed everything.

A run on sentence walks into a bar it is thirsty.

Falling slowly, softly falling, the chiasmus collapsed to the bar floor.

A group of homophones wok inn two a bar.

Panda

A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“I’m a panda,” he says at the door. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

“Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

Writing Joke of the Day: Heaven or Hell?

A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell.

She decided to check out each place first. As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.

“Oh my,” said the writer. “Let me see heaven now.”

A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.

“Wait a minute,” said the writer. “This is just as bad as hell!”

“Oh no, it’s not,” replied an unseen voice. “Here, your work gets published.”

Famous Authors Reveal Their Writing Secrets (go on, you know you wanna look)

1. “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” — Mark Twain

2. “People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.” — Harlan Ellison

3. “The secret is to start a story near the ending.” — Chris Offut

4. “The secret of successful fiction is a continual slight novelty.” — Edmund Gosse

5. “The big secret is the ability to stay in the room.” — Ron Carlson

6. “The secret to being a writer is that you have to write. It’s not enough to think about writing or to study literature or plan a future life as an author. You really have to lock yourself away, alone, and get to work.” — Augusten Burroughs

7. “It’s hard to explain how much one can love writing. If people knew how happy it can make you, we would all be writing all the time. It’s the greatest secret of the world.” — Andrea Barrett

8. “Composition is a discipline; it forces us to think. If you want to “get in touch with your feelings,” fine—talk to yourself; we all do. But, if you want to communicate with another thinking human being, get in touch with your thoughts. Put them in order; give them a purpose; use them to persuade, to instruct, to discover, to seduce. The secret way to do this is to write it down and then cut out the confusing parts.” — William Safire

9. “The secret of it all, is to write in the gush, the throb, the flood, of the moment – to put things down without deliberation – without worrying about their style – without waiting for a fit time or place. I always worked that way. I took the first scrap of paper, the first doorstep, the first desk, and wrote – wrote, wrote…By writing at the instant the very heartbeat of life is caught.” — Walt Whitman

10. “If there is a secret to writing, I haven’t found it yet. All I know is you need to sit down, clear your mind, and hang in there.” — Mary McGrory

Stop making that face. Did you really think you were going to uncover some magical shortcut to get you through the sometimes torturous process of writing? Ain’t I done learnt y’all better’n that? You go on now, here? And enjoy your weekend.

Sally forth and be secretly writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Writing Style Is the Dress of Thoughts

Parsing prose. Syntactical structure. Conceptual framework. Your writing style is the voice you use to speak to your audience and is more than just diction and the words you choose, as it offers a glimpse at your true personality. It takes the literal and transforms it into a subjective expression that evokes an emotional response from the reader.

As to how you develop a writing style… you write. Write what comes natural to you. Write without worrying about acceptance or being published. Write without concentrating on influences. But you’ve heard me bang on about this already, so I invited a few friends to help get you into the proper frame of mind:

1. “A good style must, first of all, be clear. It must not be mean or above the dignity of the subject. It must be appropriate.” — Aristotle

2. “Don’t say you were a bit confused and sort of tired and a little depressed and somewhat annoyed. Be tired. Be confused. Be depressed. Be annoyed. Don’t hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident.” — William Zinsser

3. “Carefully examined, a good–an interesting–style will be found to consist in a constant succession of tiny, unobservable surprises.” — Ford Maddox Ford

4. “A good style should show no sign of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident.” — W. Somerset Maugham

5. “A strict and succinct style is that, where you can take away nothing with­out loss, and that loss to be manifest.” — Ben Jonson

6. “The hardest thing about writing, in a sense, is not writing. I mean, the sentence is not intended to show you off, you know. It is not supposed to be “look at me!” “Look, no hands!” It’s supposed to be a pipeline between the reader and you. Once condition of the sentence is to write so well that no one notices that you’re writing.” — James Baldwin

7. “The greatest possible mint of style is to make the words absolutely disappear into the thought.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne

8. “When you say something, make sure you have said it. The chances of your having said it are only fair.” — E.B. White

9. “I am well aware that an addiction to silk underwear does not necessarily imply that one’s feet are dirty. Nonetheless, style, like sheer silk, too often hides eczema.” — Albert Camus

10. “It was from Handel that I learned that style consists in force of assertion. If you can say a thing with one stroke, unanswerably you have style; if not, you are at best a marchande de plaisir, a decorative litterateur, or a musical confectioner, or a painter of fans with cupids and coquettes. Handel had power.” — George Bernard Shaw

11. “Who cares what a man’s style is, so it is intelligible, as intelligible as his thought. Literally and really, the style is no more than the stylus, the pen he writes with; and it is not worth scraping and polishing, and gilding, unless it will write his thoughts the better for it. It is something for use, and not to look at.” — Henry David Thoreau

12. “People think that I can teach them style. What stuff it all is! Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style.” — Matthew Arnold

13. “Style is the dress of thoughts; and let them be ever so just, if your style is homely, coarse, and vulgar, they will appear to as much disadvantage.” — Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield

14. “A man’s style should be like his dress. It should be as unobtrusive and should attract as little attention as possible.” — C. E. M. Joad

15. “The style is the man himself.” — George-Louis Leclerc de Buffon

16. “The old saying of Buffon’s that style is the man himself is as near the truth as we can get–but then most men mistake grammar for style, as they mistake correct spelling for words or schooling for education.” — Samuel Butler

17. “When we see a natural style, we are astonished and delighted; for we expected to see an author, and we find a man.” — Blaise Pascal

18. “Style is the hallmark of a temperament stamped upon the material at hand.” — Andre Maurois

19. “The essence of a sound style is that it cannot be reduced to rules–that it is a living and breathing thing with something of the devilish in it–that it fits its proprietor tightly yet ever so loosely, as his skin fits him. It is, in fact, quite as seriously an integral part of him as that skin is. . . . In brief, a style is always the outward and visible symbol of a man, and cannot be anything else.” — H.L. Mencken

20. “You do not create a style. You work, and develop yourself; your style is an emanation from your own being.” — Katherine Anne Porter

21. “Style is the perfection of a point of view.” — Richard Eberhart

22. “Where there is no style, there is in effect no point of view. There is, essentially, no anger, no conviction, no self. Style is opinion, hung washing, the caliber of a bullet, teething beads.” — Alexander Theroux

23. “Style is that which indicates how the writer takes himself and what he is saying. It is the mind skating circles around itself as it moves forward.” — Robert Frost

24. “What’s important is the way we say it. Art is all about craftsmanship. Others can interpret craftsmanship as style if they wish. Style is what unites memory or recollection, ideology, sentiment, nostalgia, presentiment, to the way we express all that. It’s not what we say but how we say it that matters.” — Federico Fellini

25. “Proper words in proper places, make the true definition of style.” — Jonathan Swift

26. “The web, then, or the pattern, a web at once sensuous and logical, an elegant and pregnant texture: that is style.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

27. “The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It pays off slowly, your agent will sneer at it, your publisher will misunderstand it, and it will take people you have never heard of to convince them by slow degrees that the writer who puts his individual mark on the way he writes will always pay off.” — Raymond Chandler

28. “The style of an author should be the image of his mind, but the choice and command of language is the fruit of exercise.” — Edward Gibbon

29. “One arrives at style only with atrocious effort, with fanatical and devoted stubbornness.” — Gustave Flaubert

30. “To me style is just the outside of content, and content the inside of style, like the outside and the inside of the human body. Both go together, they can’t be separated.” — Jean-Luc Godard

31. “Thought and speech are inseparable from each other. Matter and expression are parts of one; style is a thinking out into language.” — Cardinal John Henry Newman

32. “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.” — Oscar Wilde

33. “Style, in its finest sense, is the last acquirement of the educated mind; it is also the most useful. It pervades the whole being.” — Alfred North Whitehead

34. “Style is not something applied. It is something that permeates. It is of the nature of that in which it is found, whether the poem, the manner of a god, the bearing of a man. It is not a dress.” — Wallace Stevens

35. “All my stories are webs of style and none seems at first blush to contain much kinetic matter. . . . For me ‘style’ is matter.” — Vladimir Nabokov

And if I may tack on a few extras pieces of advice: don’t forget to take risks, give voice to that quirkiness of thought that you possess, avoid clichés, if at all possible, be concise and precise, and develop a keen sense of word choice.

Oh, and be patient. Style is a thing that can’t be rushed and it might take a while for yours to become evident, but you’ll know when it finally arrives. Words will flow easier, you’ll feel more comfortable with the act of writing, and you’ll be able to recognize that identifiable cadence that belongs to only one person in the world… you.

Sally forth and be writeful… in style.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

To Save or Not to Save (the Cat): That is the Question

save-the-cat
“There’s this inherent screenplay structure that everyone seems to be stuck on, this three-act thing. It doesn’t really interest me. To me, it’s kind of like saying, ‘Well, when you do a painting, you always need to have sky here, the person here and the ground here.’ Well, you don’t.” — Charlie Kaufman

“Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!” That’s the town crier outside your window, all decked out in a red and gold robe, white breeches, black boots and a tricorne hat, clanging his handbell and making the public pronouncement that “Hollywood is broken!”

A statement which isn’t close to being accurate. Even if the industry fails to rake in the desired opening weekend profits from their current crop of mega-budget box office bombs, it will continue to churn out content even if it has to scale back production costs and cut salaries to do so. The real problem with Hollywood lies within its mindset, the outdated mode of thinking it still employs.

The simple fact is what used to work a few years ago no longer does and unless you’re Amish, a hermit, a bunkered-in end-of-the-world survivalist, or possess a serious dislike for 24-frame-per-second entertainment, you’ll have noticed a decline of late in the quality of Hollywood movies. And you’re not alone. Not only has theater attendance been dwindling and the grousing of movie critics and cinema snobs increased regarding the lack of originality springing from the loins of Tinseltown–particularly during this painful remake, reboot and prequel/sequel franchise phase—but even the average LCD movie-goer has begun to experience a touch of ennui in the midst of all the fast-paced, mind-baffling CGI and excessive explosions.

No big news if you’re a screenwriter, aspiring or otherwise, as this has been a source of debate and complaint for a couple of years now and it didn’t truly become headline worthy until Steven Spielberg and George Lucas spoke at USC, weighing in on the subject and predicting the inevitable “implosion” in the mega-budget film industry. Which, of course, led to a series of articles speculating, finger-pointing and assigning blame.

The latest target is American screenwriter Blake Snyder, who released a screenwriting manual in 2005, Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. His book provided a by-the-minute pattern for screenwriting, which included 15 essential plot points or beats that all scripted stories should contain (the example below is based on a screenplay 110 pages in length ):

1. Opening Image (Pg. 1) – Is a snapshot of the world before this story begins.

2. Theme Stated (Pg. 5) – Where you state what your movie is about before the adventure begins.

3. Set-Up (Pgs. 1-10) – The introduction to the world, the protagonist and the overall problem within the story.

4. Catalyst (Pg. 12) – Often referred to as the inciting incident, this is the point where something happens within your protagonist’s world that sets the story into motion.

5. Debate (Pgs. 12-25) – Though it’s obvious that your protagonist must accept the “call to adventure,” he/she doubts the journey they must take.

6. Break into Two (Pg. 25) – Your protagonist has faced the now-or-never choice and proactively steps into Act 2 where the story begins to ramp up.

7. B Story (Pg. 30) – Usually associated with the “love” story, this is where the protagonist encounters the person to whom they can confide what’s happening. But the role isn’t restricted to a love interest — it can be a Mentor, or a bunch of new characters that will help the protagonist understand this strange new place, assist him/her, and teach them the lesson of the journey.

8. Fun and Games (Pgs. 30-55) – This is where you find your “trailer moments.” The plot gets put on hold as your protagonist explores the new world (essentially it’s your pitch for the movie when it comes time to sell it).

9. Midpoint (Pg. 55) – Is the “no turning back” part of your movie, where your protagonist faces a whole new problem — even bigger than the one they started out with. This is where we get either a “false victory” (high) or a “false defeat” (low). It’s also where “time clocks” appear to pick up the pace of the story and rush to the end.

10. Bad Guys Close In (Pgs. 55-75) – From this point, both internal (problems inside the protagonist’s team) and external (the antagonists tighten their grip) pressure is applied that makes life tough for the hero.

11. All Is Lost (Pg. 75) – Something (an old belief system) or someone (the mentor) dies at this point in the story, forcing the protagonist to change in order to grow into the person they need to be to accomplish their goal(s).

12. Dark Night of the Soul (Pgs. 75-85) – The “Why hast thou forsaken me?” part where the protagonist is bereft and wondering, “Now what?” They have lost all hope.

13. Break into Three (Pg. 85)
– But thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute advice or information from that person representing the B Story, the protagonist takes a proactive step into Act 3, devising a brand new plan of action and committing to going all the way!

14. Finale (Pgs. 85-110) – By adding what he’s learned to what he was before, the protagonist applies all that they are in a brand new way. Here is when your hero is at the doorstep of defeat yet “digs deep down” for that last ounce of strength — and faith — to triumph!

15. Final Image (Pg. 110) – Since all stories are about “transformation,” this is reverse of the Opening Image, a “snapshot of the world after,” proves that a change has occurred within the protagonist and their world.

Unfortunately, Mr. Snyder passed away in 2009 and is unable to defend himself, but is his book actually the reason that more and more people are becoming disenchanted with new releases? Screenwriters fall on both sides of this argument. There are those who see Save The Cat as a boon since the book instructs writers on producing unique, hot concepts, requires that they carry out the “promise of the premise” and beseeches them to “escalate the stakes” with full force in a bold new manner. While others think Mr. Snyder’s formula is best suited for high concept family comedies and has no business being applied to adult-themed stories that operate in black/grey moralities, as shoehorning them into the rigid 15 beat structure chokes the life out of the original work.

When it comes to the subject of creating beat sheets, not to sound like a fence-rider, but I find myself being both pro and con. On the plus side, hats off to Mr. Snyder for analyzing the composition of Hollywood films and further segmenting the 3 Act structure into smaller more manageable parts, much in the same way Gustav Freytag did in the nineteenth century with stage plays (see: Climbing The Freytag Pyramid). It really does help you gain a better understanding of the basic anatomy of an average studio-produced movie.

On the negative side, you have what I call the Nostradamus Effect, and if you’ve watched more than a handful of movies in your lifetime, you’ve experienced it to some degree. It occurs whilst viewing a film and suddenly you’re able to predict all the salient plot points, the futures of the supporting characters, and spot each and every twist and turn as if you’ve read them on signposts a mile off. That’s your brain recognizing the pattern, the formula. And I firmly believe that formulas cannot produce art, nor can they possess the spontaneity necessary to shock and surprise the modern day movie audience.

Having said that, I take a “Hey, man, whatever gets you writing” approach to Mr. Snyder’s methods when it applies to other writers. And that’s not to say that I don’t use the Save The Cat formula on occasion, but only when a stubborn story refuses to take shape. Once I get that bad boy locked down, I shake things up accordingly in the rewrite. Rules are meant to be broken, after all, and any writer worth their salt knows this. But guess who doesn’t? Yup, the rest of the industry.

Studios employ script readers who provide coverage–the analysis and grading of screenplays with Pass/Fail marks—which takes the whole beat system a bit too literally about hitting all the 15 marks on exact page counts. And if a script happens to be lucky enough to make it past these literary sentries, it will go through an additional series of rewrites by various screenwriters, adding studio-suggested bits stolen from other popular films “that worked previously”—whether the recycled bits fit the theme of the current script or not–often resulting in a frankenfilm. Sorry, you can’t hang that on Save The Cat.

I can’t tell you the number of early draft screenplays I’ve read that were far and away superior to the finished product. A few recent ones that come to mind are: Jon Spaihts’ “Alien Engineers” (Prometheus), Evan Daugherty’s “Snow White and the Huntsman,” and Kurt Wimmer’s “Edwin A. Salt” (Salt).

In closing I’d like to invite all the doomcasters to stop picking on a dead man whose system is quite possibly the victim of misuse and put their sandwich boards away. Hollywood is getting a much needed wake-up call–thanks in no small part to the internet and other modes of content distribution–and isn’t in danger of imploding, it’s just experiencing some growing pains. The first thing it needs to do, in the process of mitigating its risk in the creation of new product, is to focus a little more on forecasting what will sell tomorrow (#innovation) rather than duplicating what sold yesterday.

Sally forth and be structurally knowledgeable yet rule-breakingly writeful.

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys