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The Transformation Machine Download

By on January 11, 2013 in About the Beats, Today's Blog

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With “The Transformation Machine,” Blake linked his 15 beats in an engaging way, demonstrating the structure that can make your story resonate. As he writes in Chapter 3 of what he considered his “best book,” Save the Cat!® Strikes Back:

Overcoming hurdles.

That’s what Save the Cat! is about.

Yet when it comes to the topic of “structure,” which I think makes Save the Cat! a breakthrough for any screenwriter, the trouble I’ve gotten in for being a structure advocate is puzzling.

We all have deficits in our writing skills. Some of us are missing the “idea gene,” some are horrible at titles, but without structure we’re sunk. Yet the fights I get on this topic astound me, and lead me to believe I haven’t quite made my case. The good news is: Of the skills it takes to be a great storyteller, structure is the easiest to learn — if you’re open to it.

And if you are, it is also the most empowering!

I think the biggest misconception about structure, and the biggest block for many writers, is the sense that I’m asking you to do something “formulaic.” Can I be honest with you, just you and me? This objection exhausts me. Let’s just say for now that those who argue against structure on the basis that it is stopping you from “being free,” or feel that if you follow my advice you’ll be doomed to write Big Momma’s House 2 over and over, are wrong.

And if you’ve read my second book [Save the Cat!® Goes to the Movies], which applies this so-called “formula” to everything from big studio hits like Spider-Man 2 and Forrest Gump to Indies like Open Water and Saw, and you still aren’t convinced these a) hit the beats, and b) are extremely different, well… you will have trouble with structure, and that’s no fun!

And yet…

I grant you there are times when having diligently followed my suggestions, and worked out your structure as I prescribe, there is unease to having it all so nice and neat. There is something about it that feels mechanical, too “clean,” or too simple. And that’s no good either. If you’ve worked out your story but haven’t started writing, it may be because you’ve lost the reason for writing it; the inspiration’s gone, you’re not feelin’ it! It might be because you know too much about your tale to be surprised when you actually put cursor to computer screen.

And if you have written a draft, you may have hit all the beats like a master, and the pieces are in place, but the emotion isn’t. Your hero seems so much like an order-taking automaton that neither you, nor we, have much interest in seeing where he goes. If any of the above applies, it feels like trouble indeed.

Whether you bridle at the idea of churning out duraflame® logs that seem so much like firewood, but aren’t, or if you just plain don’t get it yet, take heart. This is the chapter where we answer your structure dilemmas once and for all, so you will feel confident every time you fully flesh out any story you write.

As stated in the previous chapters, all we’re looking for — both as writers and as audience members — is a tale that grabs us by the gonads. Our job is simple: to be astounding! And doing that is actually easy… so long as we meet only one demand:

Tell us a story about transformation.

I like to say that as we begin any story, you the audience and I the writer are standing on a train platform. You and I are getting on that train… and we’re not coming back. The tale we tell is so life-altering, both for the hero and for us, that we can never look at our world the same way again. Others may be lingering on the platform, they may talk about the trip, but in truth it’s only talk; they’ve never actually been anywhere.

It’s because change is not only astounding, it’s painful.

The “flow chart” that shows The Transformation Machine is change in action. It illustrates how, in the process of change, the hero dies and the person emerging at the other end is wholly new.

We can actually track that change using this chart.

Download all of Chapter 3 ofSave the Cat! Strikes Back, including the “flow chart” — and don’t miss Blake’s Development Director and protegee, Jose Silerio, explain all the intricacies of the Transformation Machine at our inspiring and practical one-day seminar in Los Angeles on Saturday, January 26.

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  1. Cory Milles says:

    I’m currently finishing a mini-unit teaching my students about deeper/more advanced plot structure using Blake’s Beat Sheet, and while I do not directly hit on the Transformation Machine, I allude to it and its importance. As I taught them about the “Dig, Deep Down” moment during the Finale, I pointed out how it works. This moment of the Transformation Machine is, I believe, what makes us walk away from a story satisfied or not. Without Transformation, is there really a Story? Or is it just a set of events that are strung together from beginning to end? Truly, the Transformation Machine is a wonderful way to examine how a character goes through thesis, antithesis, and ultimately synthesis.

  2. Tom Reed says:

    It’s so great to hear Blake’s voice; so accessible, warm, engaging and playful. And so authoritative! All writing instructors talk about the necessity for “change” — to begin with change, usually in the hero’s circumstances, and to end with change, usually the hero’s attitude or spirit (and circumstances, too). This is the nature of plot, to chart the change, and the nature of character growth, to see the change in the hero’s life. But change is a colorless abstraction. “Transformation” is not. Blake’s system of terms is genius. They animate the principles of storytelling with new life and vigor. They push the writer to think bigger, go further — swing for the fences. We don’t want simple change… we want TRANSFORMATION1 Thank you, Blake, for insight and instruction writ large!

  3. Captain says:

    Cory,
    My hats of to you as a teacher and I will answer your question. Without transformation there is not a story that satisfies the audience. The audience has to be able to say, “I told you so, I knew he could do it.”
    Perry

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