Posted by: steveonfilm | November 15, 2010

One Card At A Time

I spent a good deal of time this weekend working on my outline for “The Dad Type.” While the first 15 pages are done, since I had to complete that for the contest entry, I’ve got another 95 some odd pages I’ve got to plan out. It’s been an odd feeling out process.

I’m experimenting with Blake Snyder’s “Save The Cat” theory/method on screenwriting structure, and while it’s helped me get a pretty good grasp on some major plot points for “The Dad Type,” and where they will occur, I’m starting to find it a bit restrictive.

I bought the “Save The Cat” outlining software a month or so ago, and have been using it for this project. The software is nice, and it built around and designed to support Synder’s method. But I can’t help feeling that I’m being forced into a space I’m not really comfortable with. Synder is very strict on his 40 beats a script. That’s roughly 10 beats for each part of the story (act 1, act 2A, act 2B, and act 3). And I’m used to working with 56 beats. Roughly 14 for each part. This is 16 less beats, and I’m finding it’s getting TOO restrictive.

Granted, in the end I’m going to do whatever I feel comfortable with. But it’s interesting to see how much Snyder’s method differs from Syd Field’s method. While they’re are significant similarities, there are just as many differences. Neither is right or wrong. They’re just different. And more importantly, they’re just theory.

I’ve never had a huge problem writing the second act of my scripts. I just take a while to tinker with them until I get everything right. I think “Served Cold” is a prime example of this. The second act of that script doesn’t stop. It’s not amazing writing, but I think it’s pretty well structured to keep things move, informative, and entertaining. But one of the reasons it works is because I have enough beats to string the pieces together.

I used 28 total beats for act two of “Served Cold.” I had time to fill in backstory. Develop minor characters. Up the stakes. Develop tension. And deliver a few good set pieces of action to keep things interesting. There’s no way I could have done that with only 20 beats. I just couldn’t. MAYBE 26 beats. If I pushed it 25 beats. But no way I could do it in 20. And that’s what I think I’m having the problem with on “The Dad Type.”

Act one flows out fine with 10 beats. Getting from the set up to the first plot point has never been hard for me. Hell, I think most writers can do this in their sleep. Act 1 is easy. Same goes for act 3. I can do that one in ten beats too. Not an issue. But I’m just running out of space with act 2A and 2B. I’m finding I don’t have enough time to develop the stakes. Or, maybe I’m just drilling down to far at this point and need to take it back a step? I’m not entirely sure yet.

So what I’ve decided to do is work the way I’m accustomed to, 14 beats per act. When I get down to what I think are the major beats, I’ll take a critical look and see if each beat needs to be independent, or can be combined with another beat.
This way I can work the way I’m comfortable with, stop worrying about constraints, and then take a look at my project through Snyder’s method and see if it can conform. If it can’t so be it. I’ll write it the way that’s best for me.

I think this brings me to a bigger point I’m wasting a lot of words trying to say. A screenwriting method is just that, a method. It’s not a rule. It’s not a law. It’s a guideline. There is no right or wrong way to write. No one method to rule them all. There are just theories and ideas that various writers and scholars put forth. Methods they think are the best. But they’re still just methods.

I think some stories will work better with certain methods. For example, Snyder doesn’t shy away from saying his stuff works REALLY well with comedies. That’s what he wrote to begin with. So it’s only natural that his method would lend itself well to that type of genre. But for a thriller with a lot of ins and outs, and small little scenes needed to get these across, I don’t think Snyder’s method will work as well as, say, Syd Field’s method.

Regardless, this is a good exercise for me. It’s important to try new things. It keeps you from getting stagnant. I’ve already picked up stuff from Snyder’s method that I’m going to use going forward. The way he thinks about developing an idea and plotting out the big story arcs is some really solid stuff. But whether you’re using Snyder, Field, or Campbell, the idea is to keep trying new things. You’ll take bits and pieces of everything you learn and make it your own.

Until next time, keep writing!


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