Curiously nerdy posts.
Time for another book review! But for once, this isn’t actually about a work of fiction. Instead, I’m going to be talking about a book on writing. Such a big leap, right?
The book I speak of is called Save the Cat!, by Blake Snyder.
I first learned about this book when I attended DragonCon last year. I attended a New York Times bestseller panel featuring R.A. Salvatore, Laurell K. Hamilton, Kevin J. Anderson, and Mercedes Lackey. One of the questions posed to the authors was simple: “What is your favorite book to read that you keep going back to, over and over again?” Everyone had interesting answers to this question, of course, but it was Mercedes Lackey’s answer that made me take pause. Everyone else had cute answers (Laurell K. Hamilton, for example, is apparently a huge fan of Charlotte’s Web) with a book you’d never imagine them reading. But when it came to her turn, Lackey cited this book, saying that it was simply the best book on writing that she’d ever read, and that she often went back to it for reference when she works on her novels.
Now, I’ve not read too much of Mercedes Lackey. But I do know that she has had a wildly successful writing career, and if she learned stuff from this book, then I definitely could as well. So I wrote myself a note in my phone, and picked it up for my kindle shortly after I got home.
And what do you know? She was absolutely right. This ranks right up there with Stephen King’s On Writing as the best books on the craft that I’ve read.
Now, give yourself no illusions. The author was a screenwriter, not a novelist. So this is about writing a script, and more importantly, a script that sells. But there are tons of lessons to be learned here that are useful, regardless of whether you want to write a novel or a script. And if you like screenwriting, it goes without saying that this book rocks.
For example, the very beginning of the book starts with him hammering home the importance of a log line: one sentence that you can use to sum up your story. That has tremendous value, and is incredibly hard to do sometimes. And if you’re a novelist and think you don’t need one, you clearly have never sent out a query letter in your life.
One of my favorite things about this book, though, is the almost scientific precision with which Mr. Snyder dug into the craft of writing. When people think of writing, they often think of it as something magical, something that just sort of magically happens. He basically grabs your leg, pulls you back down to earth, and says “It’s nice to have an imagination, but if you want your story to not suck, make sense, and most importantly, sell, then there are some basic rules you need to know!” He dissects a basic script, gives you the parts, and describes what should be in it. Then he gives you many useful ideas for tools on how to organize your ideas, which is also absolutely a great thing to have, even if you’re more of a “gardener” writer like I am.
It’s funny, really. I never would’ve imagined a book written by a guy specializing in writing PG comedies would have much to offer me, a guy who writes most sci-fi/fantasy. But it does, and it did. If you’re a writer, and haven’t read it, you should definitely give it a whirl.
If it’s good enough for a New York Times bestseller, then it’s good enough for you.
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