For the love of structure

I break down and analyze books for structure. It’s not a new idea but not one I always followed. I’d say, “Eh, I’ll just read and soak it up.” When I analyzed my first book last summer I was amazed by all I learned.

Over Christmas, I read SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder. Love, love, loved it. It’s a must read for novelists and screenwriters. I break down my movies and books according to his beat sheet.

One of my goals for this year is to be more active in growing in craft. So after I broke down my first movie, I processed what I learned by writing it down for a blog post. And it helped even more.

How To Train a Dragon: Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Fifteen tips I learned from HTYD.

(I was amazed to learn that Blake Snyder worked on the screenplay for HTYD. At his website, here’s a breakdown of the movie. And yes, it’s slightly different than my breakdown.)

You might wonder why I broke down a movie first. Well, I’d read a book with the intent of using it, but when I’d finished analyzing it, I came to a conclusion. The book did not have a great structure, and I think suffered because of it. So, I couldn’t use it for my blog. I was bummed. Later that week I sat down to watch a movie with my kids. When I recognized great structure within the first few minutes, I grabbed my notebook.

For many, story structure comes naturally. And for me, it does to a certain point, but when I tweak my story specifically to structure – guess what? My story is stronger.

Structure affects almost everything.

  • Pacing
  • Conflict
  • Tension
  • Story arc
  • Character arc
  • Emotion
  • Theme

It’s worth it to apply story structure techniques to your writing whether you’re a pantser or a plotter.

Next I’ll be breaking down a book I found had excellent structure. Yay!

PRINCESS FOR HIRE by Lindsey Leavitt. It starts Friday!

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27 Responses to For the love of structure

  1. Jen Daiker February 16, 2011 at 12:43 pm #

    I have heard so many amazing things from Save the Cat and the title alone has me wanting to grab it and read it until the last page!!!! Sounds like some great tips can be found!

    OH MY GOSH I loved Princess for Hire!! I can’t wait for the next one to be released!

  2. Stina Lindenblatt February 16, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    I really will have to pick up Save the Cat. The library doesn’t have it, and one of my friends asked me if I had it. I’m hoping she ordered it will lend it to me. 😀

    • Laura February 16, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

      Stina – It’s worthy buying!

      Jen – I had heard so many things, that’s why I finally bought it. And it exceeded my expectations!

  3. Angela Felsted February 16, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

    Can’t wait! I so want to read that book. I wonder if it has come into my library yet.

  4. Susan Kaye Quinn February 16, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    Amen! I’m tempted to blog about my breakdown of Hunger Games, but I’m still learning from it. I’m looking forward to your Princess for Hire analysis! 🙂

  5. angela ackerman February 16, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    This is something I definitely need to do more. I tend to just get sucked right into the story. I haven’t read Save The Cat yet, but it is on the top of my list as the next writing book to order!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

    • Laura February 16, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

      Angela – It’s a cute and fun book. I’m looking forward to the next one.

      Susan – Hunger Games would be fun to break down. But I don’t think I want to read it again!

      Angela – I love when I just get sucked into a book and my writer’s brain turns off. I’ll come back to those to break down!

  6. Sherrie Petersen February 16, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

    You’re becoming the structure guru! I didn’t realize Blake Snyder worked on HTYD since it came out after he died. The man is brilliant and I think he gave us a gift with those books.

  7. Jennifer Hoffine February 16, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    I’ll bet movies are a good place to start with structure since watching is a more passive activity than reading. Plus, I think (in general) screenwriters seem to be more strict about sticking to a certain structure than novelists are.

    Okay…you’ve convinced my panster self that I should be doing more of this 😉

  8. Jill Kemerer February 16, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    I read Save the Cat two years ago and it made a HUGE difference in my writing. I made my own pre-plotting worksheet based on it. Story structure makes a big difference in the strength of a book or movie. Some of my fave movies lately have been Pixar cartoons, and I believe it’s because the structure is so well done.

    • Laura February 16, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

      Jill – Yes, Pixar is the master and I love all their movies!

      Jennifer – Yes, I think movies are stricter than books need to be when it comes to structure.

      Sherrie – I didn’t realize it until someone repping him commented on my blog post about HTYD! No wonder it had good structure. And no, I’m not the guru, it’s just what I’m focusing on right now in my writing journey! There are other expert sites like Blake Snyder and storyfix and Alex Sokoloff that are much better! 🙂

  9. Kristin Gray February 16, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    Hi, Laura,

    Too funny, I’ve started doing the same this year, with movies and books, only on notepaper. It’s hard sometimes to put a finger on why one works so well, unless you dissect it. (And it’s not easy.)

    I’m looking forward to your posts. HTYD was a favorite last year, so I’ll be looking for SAVE THE CAT. Thanks!

  10. Patti Nielson February 16, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    I went to the bookstore to buy that book then had a mind freeze and couldn’t remember it. This time I’m writing it down. Looking forward to Friday.

  11. Susan R. Mills February 16, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    Structure is important. It’s something I’m focusing a lot on these days.

  12. Susan Sipal February 16, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

    Love Blake Snyder’s book as well, but I need to re-read it. It’s so easy to go forward and forget basic writing skills that you’ve learned and used. Or maybe it’s just me and my aging memory! 🙂

  13. Alex J Cavanaugh February 16, 2011 at 6:54 pm #

    I read Save The Cat as well and got a lot out of it. The Beat Sheet helped me.
    And How to Train Your Dragon is a great film!

  14. Leigh Moore February 16, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

    Oh! I’ve heard about that Save the Cat book, and it sounds fabulous. So did you find that structure thing got in the way of your enjoyment? I’m so OCD, I’m afraid to start thinking like this. Block-city. 😀 But can’t wait to hear about P4H~ :o) <3

  15. Tana Adams February 16, 2011 at 7:05 pm #

    I’m buying Save the Cat immediately and you’re to blame. 😉 I look forward to reading this pronto. =)

  16. Elle Strauss February 16, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    I read this book while I wrote my MG wip, and it helped immensely to plan the structure of the story. It made it a lot easier to write, just knowing what needed to be done and where.

    I look forward to your PFH breakdown!

  17. Karen Strong February 16, 2011 at 10:35 pm #

    Thanks for the link to the beat sheet. I really need to read this book. Been on my list for awhile. Can’t wait for your post on SUGAR AND SPICE. Love reading your structure posts.

  18. Lisa Green February 16, 2011 at 11:45 pm #

    I get so nervous going back to do this step, but usually it ends up only reassuring me that I did all right. Phew. Scary, but important, especially for us pantsers!!

  19. Julie Musil February 17, 2011 at 12:03 am #

    I read James Scott Bell’s book PLOT & STRUCTURE which changed my life as a writer. I had never considered the structure in my favorite books, but when I looked back, yep, the structure was there all along.

  20. C. Lee McKenzie February 17, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    *Waving* I’m your 200th follower. Yay!

    Loved the post about breaking down structure and it’s right on. When I started doing this writing for young readers I had not one clue about how to do it. I depended solely on my background as a reader, then I started paying attention to how the “great” books were structured. Huge leap forward for me.

    Thanks for the post and thanks for stopping in at the Write Game to say hi and lead me over to your blog.

  21. Paul Greci February 17, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

    As you know, I’m a save the cat fan, too. At some point during revisions I usually super impose the three act structure onto my WIP. I haven’t totally analyzed particular stories or movies but do look for structure when I read.

  22. Lynda Young February 18, 2011 at 5:20 am #

    I can’t help it, I analyze everything. It’s a great way to learn. And I loved the movie HTYD

  23. Laura Marcella February 23, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

    I loved it when you did this for HTTYD! Now I need to catch up on your Princess for Hire posts!


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