(Originally posted on LiveJournal)
I occasionally coach other writers, especially those taking beginning steps. One of my rules of thumb is that if the person has a passion for story, they can eventually learn the craft — if they are willing to do the work, and can listen to criticism. And when I’m working with such writers, I don’t pull punches: if something isn’t working, I’ll say it isn’t working. But I do try to keep it on track with what the writer wanted out of the piece, where they wanted to take me as a Reader.
When I start talking with someone who wants to get into writing, whether it is screenwriting or any other sort, I usually recommend that they go read Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! book. Blake’s book is a great starting point for developing a story. Once you get going, you may branch out, but if you use his starting points, you are not likely to go drastically astray.
The book first appeared in May of 2005, and I got it that July. And was hooked. It wasn’t that Blake had astonishing new revelations about writing. It was that he could make the points so succinctly and engagingly. Every sentence bounced with enthusiasm for storytelling. Instead of lecturing, his prose conveyed a joy in writing that was infectious. It made you excited about your own storytelling, mostly because it affirmed the mere act of starting to tell a story.
When I found out that Blake was going to do a book signing that September at the Writers Store in Los Angeles, I had to go. I took along my already edge-worn copy to have him sign it. In the course of the conversation, we really hit it off. I was to learn that he had the gift of easy sociability. But he also always delivered on the sense of friendship he conveyed. He was always accessible by email, and he was prompt in responding to emails. Later that year, I took one of the first (if not THE first) of his “Beat Sheet Workshops” — two days with about eight other people working out story kinks. It was an experience worth having.
And after that, as I worked to get The Scribbler’s Guide to the Land of Myth off the ground, he was always very supportive. He was ready with advice, and encouragement. He graciously wrote a blurb for me to use on the back cover. He even recently gave me some advice on how to further market the book, bringing it to a broader audience – advice I mean to follow, once I get plans laid out.
But notice the past tense. I found out this afternoon, that Blake died this morning.
It is hard to accept that I will not again see him bounce into a room (he really did seem to bounce), his face bright with enthusiasm and expectation. I will not see him engage with a shy, insecure writer and draw him or her out about their story, about what really made them passionate about their story. For he had that gift, too.
Writing should be fun for the writer – this was one thing he managed to convey. Oh, not the grind work of getting something completed: he didn’t pretend that it was not work, nor hard. He didn’t pretend that the editing process could be painless: he knew that editing down a story often meant “killing one’s children”. But over all and under all, he knew that a writer should take joy in the act of writing, the process of creation, that the writer has to love his story.
The story of Blake’s life these last few years has been one of joyful encouragement, of teaching those who were burning to learn how to better craft their stories. I’m sure in his private life he must have faced down times. But he never let it undermine what he had discovered to be his calling for this point in his life: nurturing new writers, guiding them to find the heart of their own stories. He blazed through his story brightly, and now his light has gone out.
But he lit many, many storyteller candles in his passage, and those lights will continue shining.
sartorias – Aug. 5th, 2009
I am sorry about his loss, but may everyone he helped go on to success, and remember his part in that.
scribblerworks – Aug. 5th, 2009
His was an indelible personality. And so many have received encouragement from him, in a way they will never forget.
jpantalleresco – Aug. 6th, 2009
Wow. My condolences. He sounded like a good mentor and friend, and I’m sure you’ll miss him. I hope things are going well for you in the
scribblerworks – Aug. 6th, 2009
Thanks, Josh. Yeah, I’ll miss him.
As for me… doing okay. New season, new opportunities. And I think, going into it with the inspiration of Blake’s life even more bright before me, it’s hard to get too down.
Lots of tears, but also lots of joy.