Thursday, July 17, 2014

Use Whatever Helps

By Steve Weddle

Good lord, what was with that 98-minute standing ovation for Derek Jeter at the All-Star Game? Or with Adam Wainwright grooving a pitch so that Jeter could get a hit?

Seems most folks are in love with Jeter because 1) he's kinda lovely to look at; 2) he's played the game at a high level for 73 years; and 3) he did it "the right way."

Of course, the "right way" means not getting caught with Jose Canseco putting a needle into your backside. And Jeter never got caught doing any of that. That worst Jeter was ever caught doing was Madonna.

As we say with some jackass gets a multi-million dollar deal for three books about an alcoholic vampyre detective going through a nasty divorce while something from his dark past resurfaces, "Hunh. Good for him. Good for him."

I'm not interested in writing the "right way." I'm usually writing as the sun comes up and, uh, maybe there's other stuff I do right. I generally don't compromise characters or plot. I don't chase fads. I don't  try to write anything popular. (Sorry, World's Best Agent.)

And I do this big thing that's probably frowned on. I mean, we're talking BALCO-level bad. Much like your PED-infused ballers, I do whatever helps, no matter the long-term consequences. I'll steal from anywhere. I'll take my performance enhancements where I can get them, lemme tell ya.

What the heck am I going on about? Well, here it is.

Writing via paint-by-numbers. Though I'm not proud of my behavior, I'm not completely embarrassed  by it.

Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT is this "beat sheet" that film people talk about. You have your "b story" and you're given the point at which your "all is lost" needs to kick in. You're supposed to open with an image, have the hero do stuff for a couple hours, then close with the opposite image so that people feel as if they've seen something happen for their $12. I mean, it's pretty well laid out there in front of you.  We're talking "hero's journey" broken down into neatly organized index cards.

Is that gauche? Is it cheating to use a "beat sheet" to write your novel?

Here's an example of how this template works for Frank Miller's famous BATMAN: YEAR ONE.

But here's the thing. I find bits and pieces I can use in what I'm working on. I gave some thought to a "Debate" scene in my current project, worked around some ideas.

Or kicking in with the catalyst. There's the old saying about how there are only two stories: someone takes a trip and someone comes to town. The key part of those stories is the change. And change tends to require a catalyst.
Catalyst – The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.Debate – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.
I guess I find myself going back to these "how to write" programs when I'm thinking about writing or when I hit a slow patch. I don't use them all the time, just when I absolutely need them. You know, more Andy Pettitte than A Rod.


Holly West said...

No, it's not cheating. Whatever works is my motto. But funny enough, I'm thinking of going back to a more organic approach because this formula isn't working for me as well any more.

Kristi said...

Totally not cheating. But should be used loosely, I believe with room for flexibility as the story progresses. : )

Fred Zackel said...

The best advice I ever heard was have sex or a gun in every third chapter. Or both, if the mood strikes you & you can pull it off. Say, have I ever pitched you my story about Sparkly, the 16-year-old pregnant zombie who is on the run from the Mob? Well, not really "on the run." More like, she shambles quicker than you'd expect ...

Scott D. Parker said...

Not cheating at all. Artists sketch before painting and make masterpieces, so why can't writer's "sketch" with an outline/beat sheet?