I just read something about structuring novels like a screenplay, and I’m intrigued. Does this really work for novels? Do you know any good books or websites I could check out to learn more?
There are several books out there about screenwriting, but my favorite resource is Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT (www.savethecat.com), which is now a book, a website, and its own brand.
In screenwriting, the term save the cat is the event or act your hero performs at the start of the story, which reveals their character, usually in a positive light. For instance, in Disney’s ALADDIN, his save-the-cat moment is when he gives his stolen bread to the starving children, thus showing that even though he may be a thief, he is still bound to a higher moral code of compassion for those who are worse off or more vulnerable than him.
On the same website, popular movies are broken down according to their “beat sheets.” A beat sheet breaks down the three-act structure into bite-size, manageable sections, each with a specific goal for your overall story. Being a pantser myself as opposed to a plotter, I find outlining a bit stifling, but the beat sheet feels comfortable as a scaffold on which to hang my story.
I’d check out the beat sheets listed on savethecat.com, starting with ALADDIN. If you’ve never worked with beat sheets before, be prepared, this revelation may blow your mind.
My agent said that an editor is interested in my manuscript and scheduled a call for us to talk. Do you have advice on what I should ask?
Cautiously optimistic in California
While there are probably several standard questions out there that are probably recommended for this situation, I will tell you the questions I wish I’d asked my first editor…
How closely do you adhere to your deadlines?
Editors are busy people, as are writers, many of whom are juggling multiple jobs in order to finance their art. If you are someone who strictly adheres to deadlines, about to enter into a long-term relationship with an editor who’s not as firm, it would benefit you to know that up front. The same goes if the roles are reversed, or if you both are of the same constitution. This doesn’t mean the two of you are a bad match, but it is part of getting on the same page as far as expectations go.
How do you like to communicate with your authors?
In keeping with respecting each others’ time and multiple obligations, combined with the numerous forms of communication at our fingertips, it’s important to know how your editor wants to hear from you and vice versa. Most agree that Facebook is a poor avenue for communication with regard to editorial business and some would argue that for deep, detailed questions, a phone call is best. Tangentially, the same goes for book reveals along the way. Always ask before posting about it on social media. Your editor will thank you.
What are your expectations for revision?
It’s important to know what your editor has in mind for your story, in general terms. Is it character development and raising tension, or is it scrapping and rewriting the second half. Even if you only have one editor interested in your novel, I’d recommend you get a good idea up front of what kind of revision they’re looking for in order to make sure that it’s in line with your goals for the story.
What are the elements of my story that are most compelling to you?
Most editorial letters are heavy on what’s not working, but not always on what is working. This is important for you as a writer to know so that when you’re in the throes of revision, you don’t inadvertently write out what’s working in your story. It also helps to hear from other people what your strengths are, so that you can capitalize on them.
The last thing I’d add to this list, is what not to ask, which is the finer details of the contract, such as rights, payment, etc. Those can be negotiated later with your input, hopefully between the editor and your agent who will act as the go-between. This allows you to be creative genius and your agent to be the heavy.
Laura Lascarso is the author of two YA novels, COUNTING BACKWARDS (2012) and RACING HEARTS (2015). If you have a burning YA question you’d like answered, tweet it to @lauralascarso with #DearLaura or include it in the comments below.