Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Behind the Scenes: What Do Cats Have to Do With Writing?

 Writers can get stuck when beginning a story. In the middle too, if truth be told, but since I'm in the early days of writing a new story, I'm more interested in beginnings.

I'm never sure what begins a story. A sense of place perhaps, for once I stood in a field near an abandoned Hudson's Bay fort and knew I would write that story. Or a daydream about mermaids swimming under sailing ships that led to a series of short stories. Or standing in awe in front of those famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries in Paris.

My current project, the second book in an art crimes series, began with wondering where Sandra and Neil would go next. What if, I thought (my favorite question), what if they went to Egypt? Memories of wandering in Cairo, sailing down the Nile, and walking under a pyramid gave me the setting. But then, the story seemed to stall. Yes, I needed research, much more research, but I realized I didn't know my characters very well, even after writing a book about them.

Cats to the rescue!

I came across this book: Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, inspired by Blake Snyder. The first chapter put me right back to work by focusing on how to discover those internal and external character flaws that shape my character's inner life and outer world. I'm comfortable with my female characters pretty much, but male characters? They remain a mystery! Not any more. That same set of questions that probe deeply into character flaws and motivation can be used to more fully develop secondary characters -- and the villain.

And really, that's how it all began. With a cat. Blake Snyder, with his highly useful original book, Save the Cat! (written for screenwriters), suggests to make your villain more accessible, he or she needs to do something that makes that character more human -- like save a cat.

As September winds far too quickly to a close, my wish for you is to cherish each day as the first hints of fall turn green leaves to brown, we dig out our sweaters, and look forward to that first snowfall.

I'll be busy writing and reliving our visit to Egypt where we once visited pyramids, so long ago.

Visiting Saqqara, Egypt (January 2004)

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