Our guest blogger, Rick DeMille, is a former missionary and former Marine who has worked in the computer industry and began writing a few years ago. His novel Hellfire has been published and he’s working feverishly on its sequel Coyote Midnight, along with a screenplay and more. He’s a member of the North Dallas Screenwriting Group and the Frisco Writers Group. His website and email address are below.
Writing is like life in reverse, at least that’s how it seems at times. We will look at what this means in a moment, but we can discover how to get things moving forward with just three letters – STC!
“Save the Cat!” works like a “Universal Law of Nature.” STC! applies just as well as “Newton’s First Law,” which states: “A body at rest tends to be a teenager, and will stay at rest until acted upon by an external force, usually a parent.” Maybe old Isaac didn’t say it that way, but I’m sure that’s what he meant.
It can even be as important as the “Law of Gravity,” that still unexplained attraction which holds the solar system and its planets together. STC! works like the gravity of writing, so for our purposes we can call it “Blake’s First Law.” This law states: “If you want to make sure every part of your story stays in its proper orbit, BEAT IT OUT.”
I can verify the truth of this law because I use it in my writing. A little less than two years ago, I was “forced” to write a novel. Forced, because I initially wrote only the first chapter, which was sent with a one-page synopsis to the Debut Dagger Awards, an international contest sponsored by the Crime Writers Association in London.
I sent in my entry, and went back to working on a screenplay, Dead on the Fourth of July. I beat out the story “Dead on the Fourth,” which is a requirement before I actually start writing any project. A few weeks later, Beat Sheet and several scenes complete, I got an email from Liz Clarke at the Crime Writer’s Association. My story was on their short list, it was one of 10 finalists.
My first thought was “Wow, this is fantastic.” My second thought was “What do I do now?” I had to decide whether to finish my screenplay, or try and turn one chapter of a novel into forty. The decision was made for me when I received a letter from an agent, saying he’d read a copy of my single chapter entry and now wanted to read my entire manuscript. Instead of writing him back, saying that he already had my entire manuscript, I began to feverishly apply “Blake’s First Law” to the novel.
Four months after that, I had a first draft. Six months and two rewrites later produced a contract with Cogito Medias. Last month Hellfire was published in eBook, with hardcover to follow.
I haven’t finished “Dead on the Fourth” yet, but I did enter the first 15 pages in the Writer’s Digest Script competition. And not only did I use the Beat Sheet to outline my story, I got help from the STC! software on something more basic.
The first thing you do when you start a new project is to give it a title. The help screen for the title says, “A title must nail the concept.”
My original title was “Common Good,” which fit very well with important scenes from the story. But, didn’t nail it. Dead on the Fourth of July nails it, because a young terrorist is going to detonate a massive bomb on the Fourth of July to avenge the death of his father, who was murdered years earlier on the Fourth of July. STC! to the rescue.
Dead on the Fourth of July was not only written in accordance with “Blake’s First Law,” it was actually named under the inspiration of STC! I finished my entry and sent it in, along with the required one-page synopsis. It placed 18th.
Clearly, STC! played a critical role in both projects, one a novel and the other a screenplay.
The logical next step then, when ”Hellfire the Novel” entered the publication pipeline, was to start on a sequel. I began work on Coyote Midnight, book two of the Travis Deacon series, as I began my war with the copy editor at Cogito to complete the final draft of Hellfire.
The method used in developing the sequel offers another example of how and why STC! is so essential to my writing process. And, it’s important to note that I use the whole “Save the Cat!” toolkit. I read Save the Cat! years ago, which forms the basis for the whole process. Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies offers even more specific guidance, and Save the Cat! Strikes Back provides even more. And I use the STC! software for almost everything I write. They are all unique tools for writers, not just screenwriters.
Oh, yeah, I promised to tell you why writing is like life in reverse. In life and learning, we begin with a problem and work to gather facts, in an effort to find the solution. Writers, on the other hand, often begin with a solution and a handful of facts, then labor relentlessly to craft them into a compelling problem – in three acts. “Blake’s First Law of Writing” gives us a framework which makes it easier to discover where and how those the facts fit in the solar system of our story.
STC! also came to the rescue as work on Coyote Midnight began. My first novel is a “Dude with a Problem” story, so it seemed logical that the sequel would be as well. As I started beating out the sequel, however, things didn’t fit. That forced me to refer back to the text books of writing physics. On page 169 of STC! Goes to the Movies the problem became clear.
As many of you know, one critically important page at the beginning of each chapter tells us how to recognize the genre of our story. Reviewing those pages revealed my error, Coyote Midnight is actually a “Whydunit,” not a DWAP. After this revelation, my writing followed its proper course. Using the STC! software and books as a guide, I successfully beat out the right story instead of trying to force the story into the wrong genre. It was a subtle difference, but an important one.
At this point, I’ve probably gone on a little too long. So, instead of explaining all the beats for Coyote Midnight, let’s end with something a little more important — something that played a huge part of my contest submissions.
There was a common factor in all my contest entries during this time. My novel was a finalist in the Debut Dagger Awards and later published. The screenplay Dead on the Fourth of July finished 18th in the Writer’s Digest competition. Both of those contests required a one-page synopsis.
Also, in order to test the story in Coyote Midnight, I adapted the first chapters into screenplay format and entered it into last years Writer’s Digest contest. Coyote Midnight finished 16th, even better than my entry the year before.
I am convinced that the synopses made a difference, and that the Beat Sheets are what made the synopses. The one-pager tells a judge, or any other reader, that there’s a story to go with the entry. It proves there’s a real story, a complete story, maybe even a compelling story to follow.
Each of my synopses were created by taking the beats and molding them together. Anyone who has a good Beat Sheet can make a good one-pager. A great Beat Sheet will be a great one-pager, so it’s VERY important that we make the best Beat Sheet possible.
The process for doing this is very simple. First, write a paragraph to introduce the back story and characters. Next write a second paragraph for Act 1 based on the Set-up, Catalyst, Debate, and Break into Two. Follow this with another paragraph for the first part of Act 2, including Fun and Games and the Midpoint, but ignoring the B Story. The next paragraph, Act 2 part 2 as you’ve probably figured out by now, includes the Bad Guys Close In, All Is Lost, Dark Night of the Soul, and Break into Three.
The final paragraph is the Beat Sheet Finale. At this point you can step away from the keyboard; your one-page synopsis is done. It’s amazing how much easier the one-pager becomes by using the Beat Sheets as opposed to walking mentally through the story and creating a synopsis from scratch.
This is an outline of the process I now use for almost all of my writing. If you have other questions or comments, my email address is email@example.com. And if you’d like to see the end result, Hellfire is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and many other eBookstores. It should also be available in hardcover this year. The Hellfire Website has links and a list of other sources. If you want to read the first chapter of Coyote Midnight, I have a link to it on my author’s site (www.rickardbdemille.com).
In conclusion, this blog is an introduction to “Blake’s First Law of Writing,” and how it has helped me as a writer. So, the next time you see an apple, don’t think of Isaac Newton… think of Blake Snyder.