Act Two, Part One…According to Snyder

Following yesterday’s post about Act One, this post is about the elements that go in Act Two. Since Act Two makes up over half of your story, I am going to divide this one in two and talk about the first part of Act Two. According to Snyder, this should include:

  1. The B Story: This is where you introduce the secondary plot to your story or what Snyder calls “The B Story”. In many stories, this is the love interest. According to Snyder, the B story serves as a breather from the A story.
  2. Fun & Games: This is something I had never heard of before reading Snyder’s book. According to Snyder, this is the part of the story where things are going well for the main character. This section is the mirror image of the one at the end of Act Two (called All is Lost). So if your character is going to lose all his money at the end of Act Two, he should have it and like it here. Otherwise, the downfall has no effect.
  3. Midpoint: Not only is this the middle of your story, it is also the end of all things good. In order for the next part (where everything starts to go wrong) to matter to the reader, everything must be established by this point. If your main character is going to mess up a relationship, we need to believe it is important to him by here. If he is going to fail to achieve a certain goal, we need to believe he wants it and can get it by here.

Again, this is my interpretation of Snyder’s advice from Save the Cat, but you really need to BUY THE BOOK to get the full picture. (No, I don’t get royalties for his sales!) In tomorrow’s post, I will discuss the second part of Act Two. Otherwise know as mwoo-ha-ha… (Okay, maybe not.)

Act One, According to Snyder

One of the best things about Blake Snyder’s book, Save the Cat, is the Let’s Beat it Out section. In this chapter, he describes the 15 sections or “beats” of a screenplay. These are:

  1. Opening Image
  2. Theme Stated
  3. The Setup
  4. The Catalyst
  5. The Debate
  6. Break into Two
  7. The B Story
  8. Fun & Games
  9. Midpoint
  10. Bad Guys Close In
  11. All is Lost
  12. Dark Night of the Soul
  13. Break into Three
  14. Finale
  15. Final Image

I don’t write screenplays, but I think his points can be applied to a story of any kind. In this post, I want to talk about what Snyder considers the first Act of a screenplay (beats #1-#6 from above).  According to Snyder, your first Act should have the following:

  1. Opening Image: This is the “before” view of the main character and it should be the opposite of the final view. In novel, I think this would be your opening scene or first 250 words.
  2. Theme Stated: This is the theme of your book. For example, “Appearances can be deceiving”. Snyder suggests you state this in the first few pages.
  3. The Setup: This occurs at the same time as #1 and #2. It is where we meet the main character. Who is he? What problems does he need to fix? This is also where we need to “Save the Cat” (ie, give the reader something to make him likable or worth rooting for).
  4. The Catalyst: This is the action that propels the main character into the conflict. For example, someone is murdered, cheated on or physically assaulted.
  5. The Debate: This is the part where the main character considers whether or not he is going to enter the conflict. So if someone is murdered, this would be the point where he decides if he cares or if it’s his responsibility to solve the mystery.
  6. Break Into Two: At the end of this section, the main character must decide to enter the conflict. He can’t be pushed or forced in any way. When he does so, the first Act breaks and the second one begins.

This is really just a high level view of his points about Act One but I’d highly recommend you BUY HIS BOOK! It’s worth its weight in chocolate. Milk chocolate

Save the Cat

A fellow writer recommended that I read Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. I was surprised at first since this is a book about screenwriting. Now that I’ve read it, I understand. Snyder’s book is full of tips on creating great stories. While some are specific to movies, most can be applied to books. For example, his first tip is in the title itself: Save the Cat. What does this mean to a novelist? It means that in your first chapter, your main character needs to do something to make readers like him. This may be something like stopping to save a cat while in pursuit of the bad guys. It may be showing that he loves his kids even if he seems like an angry jerk. Snyder’s point is that it only take a small reference to make readers care about your character and once they care, you’re golden.

If you haven’t read it already, I’d highly recommend the book.