Plotting Scenes and Saving Cats
The other day I organized the first third of my memoir. Today I broke it out scene by scene, the way Blake Snyder recommends in Save the Cat! Yes, Snyder's book is about writing screenplays. No, I'm not writing a screenplay. But I am trying to approach my writing from a more cinematic perspective, and Save the Cat! is helping in that regard.
(Hat tip to the lovely and talented author Karin Gillespie, who not only turned me onto Snyder's work but also sent me her own thesis on plotting a novel like a screenplay.)
Snyder recommends describing each scene using four attributes: location, event, mental shift and conflict.
No mental shift? No reason to include the scene. More than one conflict? Simplify or the scene will be muddy and unmemorable.
Using this framework, the first chapter of my memoir looks something like this:
- Location: Mom’s house
- Watching TV with nephews
- +/- I start out hopeful, end up discouraged
- >< I want to relive my childhood but my nephew reminds me I’m a bad seed
- Location: Mom’s studio
- Watching her paint
- +/- I start out discouraged, end optimistic
- >< I want mom to stop me from quitting my job but she encourages me instead
- Location: Doctor’s office
- I get a pre-baby physical
- +/- I start out optimistic, end up discouraged
- >< I want to have a child but must stop taking antidepressants first
The chapter has more than three scenes, but you get the idea. As I edit my existing work and complete the remaining chapters, this exercise is helping me cut through clutter and see what's truly essential.