How do you write a great story? Really. How is it done? Do you map out your work? Do you write on the fly? I get these questions EVERYDAY from fellow writers and interviewers. Everyone wants to know the “secret” to great storytelling. I have to whisper this…I have that secret. OK, are you totally excited now? You should be. Because I really do have the secret to writing a killer story. And I learned it. From a screenwriting book. Yup, a screenwriting book, that took those ideas from another book about stories. The screenwriting book is called “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder and it really is the last book you will ever need on writing a great story.
“Save the Cat” was inspired by “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell. Another amazing book, but a bit difficult to digest. But Blake’s book, “Save the Cat” is it. If you want to learn how to write a great story, read “Save the Cat.” “Save the Cat” breaks down stories by beats. Every story has to hit a beat, or it won’t go anywhere. You’ll just be writing, and writing, and writing…and just like a treadmill, going no where fast. No, you have to “beat” out your story before you put your fingers to your laptop. Every story in the history of the world follows these beats.
Let me give you an example. Horror writing. Sounds easy, right? Just write about some dumb teens in a random place, a killer and everyone dies….blah, blah, blah. There are actually 3 distinctive elements every great Monster in the House story needs. It’s called Monster in the House because it’s exactly that…you need a monster. Duh. A man-eating shark, an alien, bugs, Freddy, something that will SCARE the living daylights out of people. You need a HOUSE. But not just any house. You need a house that people cannot leave. Like Amityville in Jaws. Or Nostromo in Alien. Third and final thing…probably the most important thing, you need a SIN. A sin that allows the monster to eat the people. In Jaws for example, the sin is committed by the mayor. He knew there was a shark but kept the beaches open (for profit). Greed is the sin for the shark to eat the people. Your story has to be primal. You have to be able to explain it that will affect people emotionally.
These are all lessons you will never learn in school. You need to read “Save the Cat” and learn from Blake (who tragically passed away a few years ago). Write out the beats to your story, and you will be able to write in no time!
Michael Phillip Cash is an award winning and best selling author of horror, paranormal, and science fiction novels. Stillwell: A Haunting on Long Island, The Hanging Tree, and Schism: The Battle for Darracia have all been named to Foreward Reviews Book of the Year Awards. Cash currently resides on Long Island with his wife and children.