Since my post on my little creative exercise, The Fox Cycle, yesterday, I’ve had a couple people write to me with questions about trying the Save the Cat 10 Story Writing Challenge (STC10) themselves. So, I thought I’d take a minute and write up a few simple rules for the challenge that people can use (or disregard) to keep themselves on an even keel.
The Save the Cat 10 Story Writing Challenge (STC10)
Goal: The goal is to produce 10 stories in 10 weeks, at a rate of one a week, each one based on one of the 10 movie types (also refered to as genres) presented by Blake Snyder in his book on screenwriting called Save the Cat! Snyder’s genres are different than the standard romance, comedy, horror (etc) genres, and can be found in chapter two of his book. For those who can’t afford the book, or don’t wish to purchase it, descriptions of the 10 types can be found here, and here, with extra notes on working with several of them from writer Erik Bork here.
Benefits: Doing the challenge is a great way to flex your creative muscles, clean out the cobwebs if you haven’t written for a while, and tighten up your writing. Being forced to write a story in such a condensed form really makes each word count, and can help in teaching yourself to be more concise in your writing. If you follow the rules, you’ll also build an audience, and at the end of the 10 weeks you’ll have ten stories you can show off, market, or use as springboards for further stories or projects. (I used this challenge as a way to build a setting and cast of characters to use in other future stories.)
The Basic Rules are as follows:
1) You must write one story a week for ten weeks, each corresponding to one of Snyder’s 10 different genre types. (Order doesn’t matter, no type can be done twice!)
2) Each story must be Flash Fiction (about 1000 words in length). Anyone can find the time to write 1000 words a week, it just takes an hour or two. If you’re a person blessed with lots of extra time, you may choose to write longer short stories instead, but I recommend setting a word target (say 3-4000 words) for each story and sticking to it.
3) You must pick a day of the week to be your deadline day, and post these stories online somewhere on that day. This is to keep you honest, and because deadlines are helpful. It doesn’t matter if the story is “perfect” or not, it has to go up on that day, or else! Also, it doesn’t matter where you post these stories, but it must be at least a semi-public forum where other people can read them. (I recommend a personal blog, a forum, Wattpad, or fictionpress.com.)
That’s pretty much it. Just follow these rules, and if you can pull it off in 10 Weeks, you win!
However, if this seems a bit easy for you, and you want to take it up a notch, we have the advanced challenges! You can do some, all, or none of them, it all depends on you.
(Optional) Advanced Challenges:
4) Write in a new and unfamiliar setting. (For example, a new school, a new town, a new job setting, a historical setting, another planet, or someplace you’ve never set a story before.)
5) Write about new and unfamiliar characters. (Maybe the flight crew of a passenger jet, or men salvaging boats in Indian, or a student who has just gone abroad to teach English.)
6) Have a central theme or idea that runs through your stories. Maybe you want all of them to be comedies, or maybe you want the themes of longing and heartbreak to run through all of them, or maybe they’re all based on the question “what if animals could talk?”. Pick some thread you want to connect the stories together, and weave it in.
7) Produce artwork to go along with each story when posted. If you have the ability, you can do it yourself, or you can challenge an artist friend to produce the artwork as their own personal creative challenge. Of course, if someone else is doing it, you need to give them a couple days to produce the art, so either write fast, or tell them what the story is going to be about ASAP!
8 ) Set some other extra challenge for yourself related to the story that pushes your creativity. Perhaps you usually write male characters, but will make all your leads for the challenge female. Or maybe, you will write music to accompany each story. Or maybe you will post a reading of the story in an audio file instead of text. The possibilities are limitless, and up to you. Have fun!
Thoughts and Notes:
As someone who has done this myself, I have a few recommendations:
- Buy Save the Cat!, having the book there beside you to refer to does help. (Save the Cat Goes to the Movies is also helpful, but not required.)
- Remember that these story types don’t require that the stories be of a particular traditional genre (comedy, romance, action, erotica, etc) or aimed at a particular audience (young adult, adult) so feel free to do what you want.
- Don’t take the genre type names too literally.
- Sometimes, you might find that the story you set out to write ends up being one of the other types instead. Think of how you can re-write it to better fit what you were aiming for. (Or,if you haven’t done that type yet, use this story for that spot!)
- Set the stories in a place, or around a group of people. This will give you more flexibility in the stories you tell, and lets you build upon the other stories in the challenge.
- Play with different points of view. Writing Flash Fiction is hard sometimes, because often you have to tell, not show, the story. Certain viewpoints are better for certain ways of telling the story. (ie, a character who is having another character tell the story to them is a good technique for framing some longer stories and condensing them down.)
- Don’t try to cram all your ideas into 1000 words, just stick to the essentials and make notes for later if you wish to expand the story or write a new story building upon some part of it.
- If your story, after editing and despite your best efforts, still runs 1214 words, post it anyways.
- If you miss a week, post that you’re taking the week off, and then post your next story the following week. Try not to miss two weeks in a row. (You have an audience expecting your next story! Don’t let them down!)
- If you post to twitter, use the hashtag #flashfiction to let people know it’s there!
- And most of all- have fun! This is supposed to be a fun, creative exercise, so don’t forget the fun part!
And that’s it! Have fun challenging yourself, and if you decide to do the challenge feel free to let us know how it went by posting in the comments section below.