Monday, January 30, 2012

Save the Cat! Meets Paradox

Recently, I finished the first draft for my fourth Young Adult novel, tentatively titled Paradox. The novel uses time travel to explore the questions of what we can really control in our lives. Are we destined to walk a certain path? Do we have a choice in what happens to us? Are some things just meant to be?

The idea for a YA novel on time travel came to me when I heard two words: "temporal justice." In an episode of the show Heroes, Hiro Nakamura, the character who can travel through space and time and even freeze it, at one point wants to correct a wrong from his past, and in so doing faces a sort of cosmic tribunal, one that holds him accountable for trying to change the past. This episode got the gears of my mind working, and over the course of the past year, I developed the story that was to become Paradox. Of course, it went through many changes in the initial planning phases. But it was extremely easy to plot once I learned about the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet, made popular by the book Save the Cat! by the late Blake Snyder.

The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet, hereafter referred to as BS2, lays out the way most films are structured in any genre. In fact, the more I've seen and read, the more ways I've seen how true the structure is.

Blake Snyder broke stories down into fifteen main components: Opening Image, Theme Stated, Set-Up, Catalyst, Debate, Break Into Two, B Story, Fun & Games, Midpoint, Bad Guys Close In, All Is Lost, Dark Night of the Soul, Break Into Three, Finale, and Final Image. To try and elaborate on these beats in one blog post would do the structure a disservice. If a reader wants to learn more about the structure, I highly recommend the books in the series and the accompanying website .

Needless to say, the BS2 helped me to learn just where my story needed work. I already knew how I wanted to start and end it, as well as many events I wanted to include. But arranging them into a clear, coherent, and captivating story was the challenge. How could I make sure to grab the reader's attention? How could I communicate the theme in the best way possible? How could I make it exciting? The BS2 was the answer.

For example, a large part of any story, as it builds toward its climax, is traditionally called the rising action. The beauty of the BS2 is that it breaks down the rising action into multiple sections, each one enhancing the overall story. As I worked on Paradox, I knew that something was missing in the rising action, but I wasn't sure what. Once I reviewed and restructured my plot, I realized I needed more in the Bad Guys Close In section. This would be crucial to raising the stakes for my protagonist and preparing him to face his greatest fears in the climax.

The BS2 helps me to write to my target audience, capturing the feel of a movie while guiding me in creating a quality story. This is the first novel I have written using the BS2, and I feel that it has the best "flow" of any I've written so far. I will definitely continue to use this in the future.

In fact, some of my middle school students plan to as well. I recently taught them the BS2 as a deeper look at story structure, and many of them saw the value in breaking a story into more meaningful beats than the general "exposition," "rising action," and "climax." Many of them commented that it helped them understand why certain parts of a story happen when they do, as well as why they do. I am excited that they want to use it in their own writing as well.

And now, I am one step closer to my favorite part of revising my novel: I get to share it with my target audience and get their genuine feedback.

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