Follow a Formula to Freedom?

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Written by Brendan O’Meara

I’ve been reading Save the Cat!, a book on screenplay writing by Blake Snyder. Beat for beat this book tells the writer what must happen on a certain page in a screenplay to keep the viewer engaged. There are storytelling archetypes that we are inherently drawn to and come to again, and again, and again. Some say the formula may be inhibiting, but then again, maybe not.

Here’s the deal, since the beginning of time we’ve followed certain story structures. Take “the road novel”. This goes back to Homer and how many road stories have you seen? Probably dozens, but the road is different. Seriously, don’t try to be original. It’s already been done.

People are tuned to a certain frequency, but it’s within that frequency where we can express our creativity. The Dark Knight follows the Save the Cat! formula to a ‘T’, but it’s a brilliant script and and brilliant movie. Just watch this amazing final scene that sums up the theme of the movie, “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Gives me chills every time.

Frankly, writers sometimes try to be too creative, try to be too against the grain, but you know what they are? Poor. Take it from me.

What if you come to the understanding that stories have follow a certain stream bed, but you can fill it with whatever fluid you want? All of a sudden your creativity can bloom. Maybe, once you understand the story structures, then and only then may you find a way to pull the rug out from under your reader.

Maybe your memoir feels like it’s wandering, but maybe you just haven’t found the write story structure for it. Once you find that archetype, then you can shoehorn your story into the mold.

Yes, Save the Cat! is about screenplays, but it’s also about storytelling. It’s more about storytelling. And that’s what we do. We tell stories. And readers love us for it.