Writing advice

So I've been reading an interesting series of threads on reddit recently, made by a reader for an agent. They discuss how to get an agent, a little about publishing and some of his thoughts about what makes a book/story worth reading. It included one particular idea I found fascinating about putting in a "cat rescue" at the start of your story - a short problem which is solved quickly by the protagonist in order to help pull the reader in and make them invested in your character(s). This is the last post in the series, but it has links to all the others:


Also, I've literally just discovered that Brandon Sanderson has a writing course recorded on youtube. Sploosh!


Sounds a lot like Blake Snyder's Save the Cat, which is on screenwriting but which many writers in general have found helpful. Donald Maass covers similar topics in his book, The Fire in Fiction.

Save the cat might have been the exact term used. I hadn't encountered that idea before, so I found it really interesting.

Before Snyder the term 'pet the dog' was used by screenwriters. A scene where the protag does something nice so you know he's a good guy. The problem is that it's become somewhat of a cliche at this point and because the audience knows what's happening it can take them out of the story and it ends up being a contrivance. Of course, if you do it subtly or mask it in some way you can still use it to good effect, but you still run the risk of it coming off like a Disney family movie (which is what Blake Snyder was known for).

Yeah, there's that, Mooderino. It was a helpful basic concept when I first saw it though, as Stable said. (Although I'd argue that the audience won't always notice, unless they're also writers. I'm stunned sometimes when I have conversations with non-writers about books and movies, and they see things differently than I do. And of course, if you happen to be writing a Disney family movie... ;))

I like the way Maass approaches it, in that he breaks down in more detail the ways you can "humanize" characters, as opposed to simply doing a broad stroke painting of "Oh look, he's really a nice guy."(I'd have to track down my copy of The Fire in Fiction to tell you exactly what he says, sorry for the vagueness of that.) And he looks at more than just the main character's role. The short version is, of course, to try to make characters more than one dimensional, and to do it as quickly as possible because that's what the readers usually get invested in--caring about the characters. So the earlier you give them something to care about, the earlier they can start caring. But it's cool to look at the different nuts and bolts approaches people take to it. (Maass is an agent too, btw. I think he may have some fiction out there, but its mostly his agency he's known for. Which sort of ties back to Stable's reddit link, which is why I mention it.)

Huh, without consciously being aware of this advice or having heard it before, I did that in From Winter's Ashes. Seemed logical to me and Keith to start in media res with Heather Blackthorne doing her job well, then having it go disastrously wrong, and having those consequences tie in with the larger downwards path of her life so far.

Also, definitely avoiding "pet the dog" because Heather wasn't meant to be a Nice protagonist, in that sense. Trope of "Good Is Not Soft", etc.

It is fine to do slower introductions to your characters, but if you're writing something with action and excitement in it, well, start there.

What's the opposite of 'pet the dog' called? Kill the dog?

House of Cards did that in the very first episode. The first thing the protagonist does is to kill a dog, letting us know right away that he's not a 'nice' character. Somehow I still rooted for him. I love anti-heroes.

I've seen the opposite as "Kick the Dog."

TVTropes, as ever, has our backs:



http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ShootTheDog (relevant to House of Cards)

@Patrick You forgot: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ShootTheShaggyDog