What writing method do you use for short stories or novels? There are many. There’s the Skeleton Method that Angela Hunt uses (and taught us at our Fall Conference). Or there’s the Chapter Method where the story is first summarized in one or two sentences and then each chapter is summarized on index cards. The Snowflake Method, created by Randy Ingermanson, starts with a one-sentence summary, and then a paragraph summary, and then that paragraph is expanded into characters, and then into scenes and so on.
The Freytag Method, developed by Gustav Freytag, which I was taught in high school, follows a pyramid shape with exposition, rising action and climax and then falling action and denouement. The Three-Act Structure with the inciting incident and door of no return has become very popular. James Scott Bell details this method in Plot and Structure. The Hero’s Journey is based on Joseph Campbell’s study of mythological elements which appear over and over again in famous myths and stories. Star Wars follows this method.
I have studied all of these methods and tried most of them, but there is one that speaks to me and that one is Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It is a screenwriting method that novelists are finding applies equally well to their work.
Save the Cat follows the three-act structure and takes the writer through 15 steps that must be included in each story, whether flash fiction or novel. Snyder has done his homework, having analyzed hundreds of movies and points to each step in those movies. This method works for me as I am a visual and linear writer. I must see that checklist and check off each step as I’m going.
Here are the 15 steps, or beats, as he calls them: Opening Image, Theme Stated, Set up, Catalyst, Debate, Break into Two, B story, Fun and Games, Midpoint, Bad Guys Close In, All is Lost, Dark Night of the Soul, Break into Three, Finale, and Final Image.
The one idea that draws all the points together, and keeps me focused, is the logline, which is that one- or two-sentence summary of your story. If I want to be sure I’m on track, I refer back to my logline. Snyder says that a winning logline includes an adjective to describe the hero (or heroine), an adjective to describe the villain, and a primal goal with high stakes. It should include irony, a timeframe, a promise of more, and a killer title.
I don’t feel that any method is superior to another. Every writer approaches writing with their own personality and that’s why there are so many different methods we can try. Which one works best for you?
If Pam Mytroen could spend all day in her kitchen baking pies, brownies, and making turkey dinner for friends, she would. But Murray Pura once told her to write first and then bake—advice that she is trying to stick with these days, except, of course, when her grandchildren stop in for milk and cookies.