A friend of mine who writes urban fantasy novels turned me on to Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!® The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need and his technique of developing story plots. I was skeptical at first since I’d gone through a screenwriting phase a few years back and thought I’d pretty much read and discovered everything there was to developing plot as if writing a screenplay, but I picked up some new techniques and ideas from Mr. Snyder. I’ve added a quick summary worksheet below that you can download to get a feel for the technique.
Starting in the 1980’s the the logline of a script became critical. Used for both pitching a manuscript and selling the movie, the logline is a single line description of the story and an extended or enhanced logline is a 1-2 sentence description of the story with all the critical elements included. The goal was to creating something that could sell your script in the length of time it took to ride an elevator. By the end of the 80’s, novelists used the them to pitch their manuscripts as well.
Snyder’s basic logline template is composed of the hero (with a descriptive adjective), the antagonist (also with a descriptive adjective) and the hero’s compelling, ironic primal goal written to spark images of possibilities. For example, Die Hard’s logline would be: A bullheaded cop comes to L.A. to visit his estranged wife when her office is taken over by terrorists. The enhanced logline would something like: On the brink of a divorce, a bullheaded, street-wise, New York cop is trapped in his wife’s office building by terrorists and teams up with an L.A. “desk cop” to stop them; but when his taunts of the terrorists risks exposing his hostage wife’s identity, he must learn to adapt and change to outsmart the lead terrorist and prevent the true goal of a billion-dollar heist.
The enhances or extended logline contains all the key story elements. In his Save the Cat!® series, Blake Snyder identifies these as:
At a Stasis=Death moment (if things don’t change, something will end or die), a flawed Protagonist (the flaw proving an obstacle to the resolution) has a Catalyst (something that happens to change the situation) and Breaks into Act Two with the B Story (the subplot or underlying foundation of the situation); however, when the Midpoint (pivotal event or crisis) happens, the protagonist MUST learn the Theme Stated (whatever is the underlying theme of the story) before All is Lost (the antagonist wins) to the flawed Antagonist (the flaw being the cause of the antagonist’s defeat).
Being a screenwriter, Blake Snyder thinks in images and he breaks things down that way starting with the Opening Image and ending his story plot development board with the Final Image. He also provides a series of questions to help us develop and revise our characters and plots. For my novelist friend, who is considerably younger than I am and grew up in the much more visual world of anime, manga and video, the Save the Cat!® approach was much clearer than the Traditional Fiction Writing Story Arc or even John Truby’s 22 Building Blocks approach.
I found his second book in the Save the Cat!® series, where Snyder does a break down of several well-known and successful movies, so useful in actually seeing his technique in action I purchased the third book in the series (which offers additional tips to avoid common problems and pitfalls). Blake Snyder has also produced a software program for screenwriting that helps you develop your loglines and storyboard your plot with the ability to create and shuffle the necessary scenes for your manuscript.
A Plot Development Storyboard Worksheet for You
Since I don’t do screenwriting any more, I decided to make another worksheet that I could use with my manuscripts to remind me of Snyder’s key concepts. You can download it here:
Be sure to check out Blake Snyder’s website to download his various worksheets, tip sheets and tools for things like his 15 story beats, writing comedy and writing horror. You can also get a schedule of his upcoming classes and workshops which includes not only his Screenwriting Beat Sheet Workshop but his Novel Writing Beat Sheet Workshop. All of which are far better than using my Cliff Note’s worksheet.