So my favorite writing help books are Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (RIP) and The Eight Characters of Comedy by Scott Sedita. I’ve actually re-purchased both of these books already because I lost my first copies somewhere but they were so helpful it was worth buying them again. That’s how awesome these books are. You’re probably thinking, come on Lola, aren’t you writing a novel? Why yes, I am. Let me explain why these two books completely NOT about novel writing are the most helpful.
Save the Cat
This is a book on screenwriting, THE best book out there on screenwriting. Most screenwriters who have read it would probably agree. I’m warning you, after you read, you’ll never watch a movie the same way again. My husband has had it up to here with me whispering in the movie theatre, “This is the All is Lost moment.” or “They just introduced The Thing That Needs Fixing.” But it makes movie watching an even BETTER experience. Trust me and if you’re like me and have a whole lot of world building, awesome characters but a serious lack of structure for your plot, I’m telling you GO BUY THIS BOOK! Screenwriting is VERY structured. By this page, x things should have happened….and so on.
The other great thing about this book is when you’re pitching your novel to an agent, you should think of it like a movie. Or like it could be made into a movie, because who doesn’t want that? You should have a “log line” ready that sums up your story in one sentence. Also known as “the hook” in novel writing. Also you need an elevator pitch ready in case you get stuck at Ascendio with one of the agents and have the perfect opportunity to rattle off why your book is the next Harry Potter. These exercises also really help you distill down what your book is about at it’s core and can help refocus your writing.
So yes, writing a novel is a little more complicated then a cut and dry “Out of the Bottle” film but having those universal story archetypes in the back of your mind will help tell you when you need to transition to Act 2 or give your characters some more complications. I try to think of my novel as a layering of many different types of stories. For instance, I have a Buddy Love (rom com) thing going on with two characters, but the main story line driving the plot is Golden Fleece (or a heist) with a twist of Institutionalized (rage against the man) going on at the end. These all interweave into my novel whereas in most movies I would be confined to one.
Throughout the first book (the subsequent ones are helpful too) he goes through each part of the movie, or “beats” as he calls them, and tells you exactly what should be happening in this part. Is it formulaic? Yes. Does it work? Yes. Will it resonate with your readers? YES! This is how I first outline any story. Right now I’m using a combination of this and Jim Butcher’s much more complicated process for my Teenage Riot novel I’m trying to finish my July.
Again you’re going to tell me, Lola this book is so formulaic and it’s for SitCom writing. What could it possibly teach me about writing a YA novel?! This book is about SitCom archetypes and how they interact to make hilarious situations. No matter how dark the novel, you need some comedic relief. Even Harry Potter has Luna (In Their Own Universe) and Neville (The Lovable Loser) as well as Hermione (The Logical Smart One) and Ron (Another Lovable Loser, also sometimes the Dumb One, bless his heart). So see, these are archetypes we identify with and it’s what makes SitComs so wildly popular. Do you want your YA series to be the next ‘Friends’? I sure as hell do!
The best thing about this book is that it breaks down each archetype, gives their motivations and characteristics. If you’re trying to make side characters more memorable, thinking of them as one of these archetypes works wonders! This book also helps keep you from making your characters all seem the same. But don’t think you’re pigeonholing your characters. Don’t tell me, but Lola, my characters are COMPLEX they can’t possibly be an archetype. Read some Joseph Campbell and tell me Harry Potter isn’t an archetype. It what makes it WORK! You can identify with his struggles, you want him to win. Archetypes are AWESOME and help give universal meaning to your story. Of course your main characters won’t fit one of the Eight Characters all the time (although Hermione does a pretty good job as a solid LSO), but you have to think of them this way in scenes. It’s what helps create tension between your characters, it helps you think about what your characters current state is. Even in the book, it says that the best sitcoms have characters who switch roles all the time. Take Fraiser for instance, Fraiser and Niles switch roles ALL the time, what makes every episode funny is that they’re never the same and they can play off each other.
Even if I haven’t convinced you to buy these books, I hope I’ve convinced you to try some unconventional reading to kick start your writing. Most books about writing novels are all esoteric and out of touch with putting words on a page or how to make characters hate each other. These two books are practical and spell it all out. I’m sorry novel writers, but we’re not the physicists of the writing world (that would probably be the poets) and borrowing from the more structures writing sciences will not hurt you but only help you! I swear thinking of your novel as a movie or sitcom will help immensely.
Now if I can just find time to write between finishing out my two weeks and packing my whole house to move across the country, I would be a published author by the end of the year right?! Let’s hope I can get my stuff together by July at least. If you have any other suggestions for books I might like, lay ‘em on me!