John’s Reading List For Writers…“Save The Cat! Writes A Novel” by Jessica Brody

Save The Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody

This book has an unusual title and cover, and to be honest, neither caught my attention in a positive way. (Could I really let my chickens see me reading a book with a picture of a cat on the cover? Cats love chickens, but not in a good way.)

Save The Cat! Writes A Novel is based on the Save The Cat! books by Blake Snyder. His books were written more for screenwriters, but in her own book, Jessica Brody adapted his ideas for novelists.

From reading this book, I learned that the building blocks of a successful screenplay and a successful novel are very much the same. Both are made up of “beats” which are events that work to transform the main character. Each has a specific goal to move the story forward.

Here are several “beats” that come in the beginning of a story.

The “Opening Image” provides a snapshot of the main character and their world. The readers gets a glimpse of what life is like for your main character. Think about the opening minute or two of a movie where the main character is just going about their ordinary, everyday routine while the opening music and credits are playing.

The “Theme Stated” tells what your character needs to  learn and how they need to change. But, of course, the main character is often complacent about their life and isn’t particularly eager to learn any life lessons and transform in any way because change can be painful and is often hard work. They need something to propel them forward into the story.

The “Catalyst” is something that disrupts the status quo world of the main character. It sends them off in a completely different direction whether they want it to or not. It’s what moves them out of their normal life and onto a journey of transformation.

The next time you watch a movie, look for these things. They have been there all along, we just have not been completely aware of them. (That is what convinced me this was a useful book.) The “beats” are built into the screenplay for a movie, and they can be built into a novel as well. They lay the foundation and hold the story together even though the movie viewer or novel reader is often not conscious of them.

This post just skims the surface of the first part of this useful book. A large section describes the different story types and the essential ingredients that make each as effective as possible. If you write only a particular type of story such as horror or romance, this larger section of the book may not be useful to you, only just the parts specific to your preferred genre. In that case, a borrowed copy from your local library might work best for you. That’s where I originally found this book and then bought my own copy.

Save The Cat! Writes A Novel has been a very useful resource for me and may be the same for you even if you choose not to add it to your home library.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! I am hoping to have a new “My Life With Gracie” story post each Saturday which seems to be our most popular day with readers. Thanks for reading!

John’s Reading List For Writers…”Wired For Story” by Lisa Cron

If you are writing any kind of story, but particularly a novel, this book is for you. I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough. Wired For Story by Lisa Cron completely changed how I looked at writing a novel and just about anything else!

I checked out this book from our local library early last summer. Read it. Renewed it. Reread it. Took notes from it. Then I went out and bought my own copy!

Wired For Story is about how our brains think in stories and what our brains look for in stories. By tapping into the way our brains process stories, we can write compelling and meaningful stories. (This is not about tricking or manipulating readers the way annoying “click bait” does online.)

The story is what creates beautiful writing…not the other way around. —- Lisa Cron from her website

So what does that mean? To me, it means story has to come first. You may use the most sophisticated words in the dictionary and sound like a literary genius, but if your story doesn’t hold anyone’s interest, you have wasted your time. You may have a beautiful piece of writing, but no one will want to read it. Once you’ve hooked the reader with good story, then they can appreciate beautiful writing.

Throughout her book, Lisa Cron pairs a “Cognitive Secret” about how the brain works with a “Story Secret.” Here is an example from the first chapter.

Cognitive Secret: We think in story, which allows us to envision the future.

Story Secret: From the very first sentence, the reader must want to know what happens next.

No one told me this when I took “Creative Writing” in high school. The focus was on saying things in a unique way and using lots of sensory description. (This was boring, and I was honestly not very good at either of those skills. I still am not.) By mastering beautiful writing, we would be able to make our readers feel like they are experiencing the story for themselves. Looking back, I wish I had asked, “Why are those things so important when no one cares what happens next to my main character?” Story has to come first.

Even if you only write blog posts and have no further aspirations, what you write here on WordPress must make the reader want to continue on to the next sentence, the next paragraph, and the next post.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, a story is not about the plot or even what happens in it. Stories are about how we, rather than the world around us, change. They grab us only when they allow us to experience how it would feel to navigate the plot. Thus story, as we’ll see throughout, is an internal journey, not an external one. —- Lisa Cron “Wired For Story”

That one short paragraph from the first chapter completely changed how I wrote my first novel about my chickens. It went from being about “some cute and interesting things that happened to Pearl” to being about “how Pearl faced some tough challenges that changed her for the better.” This is not an external journey (what we do). This is an internal journey (how we change).

If you are a writer, this book belongs in your library! It will likely change the way you write your stories, and I believe the change will be for the better. By the way, you can also find some valuable free resources on Lisa Cron’s website. Check it out, and if you find the information there helpful, look for this book in your local library or bookstore. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

 

John’s Reading List For Writers…“Writing Picture Books” by Ann Whitford Paul

The end of this week will mark the sixth week since submitting “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens” to a publisher in England named Chicken House, Ltd. for their “Open Coop” submission day. (The six-week mark is when we will know whether we have been selected or not.) While waiting, I thought it might be good to share a few books which were helpful to me during the writing process. These may be helpful to those of you who are writers hoping to be published.

Although the title may make you think this book is not for you unless you write children’s picture books, there is valuable information here for any writer, regardless of intended audience or preferred genre. Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul taught me a great deal about writing any kind of book. (There is even a section on poetry which Amelia found very helpful and inspiring.)

Her book helped me consider how the elements which make a good picture book also make a good novel. For example, instead of the two-page spread, there is the chapter. The things which make you want to turn the page of a good picture book are the same things which make you want to turn the page of a good novel.

As I was writing, How To Explain Christmas To Chickens, if I couldn’t imagine a chapter as one or more two-page spreads, I knew something was probably wrong with it. If there were big sections which couldn’t be illustrated, I began to question their necessity. This wasn’t because I wanted to write a picture book, but because I wanted to write a book that would “draw” pictures in the minds of my readers and keep them turning the pages.

Writing Picture Books provides many important general keys to writing a story of any kind and for any audience. In fact, when reading many of its passages, it is unlikely you would realize you were reading about writing children’s picture books. This may not be a book to add to your shelf at home, but if you are a writer or an aspiring writer of any type of book, it will likely give you some helpful advice and may be available at your local library.

Never underestimate the power of a picture book! Even as adults, we can find our favorite picture books from childhood sneaking into everyday conversations. I’ll bet you remember The Little Engine That Could and “I think I can, I think I can.” One of my own favorite expressions lately is, “I’m just a Pokey Little Puppy today.” (Of course, even pokey little puppies can have naughty days!)

Wouldn’t it be great to be the author of a book that created such lasting memories for your intended audience? No matter their age? No matter their preferred genre?

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!