Alex Epstein hopped ahead of me on this one, so I'll try not to double up on anything he covers.
Blake Snyder's had a pretty spiffy career rocking out the spec sales over the last fifteen-twenty years. He's taken the time to codify his approach in his book Save the Cat. StC takes you through a full development process, from logline through outline to final script, with some some script wrenches as bonus prizes at the end.
There are two sections here that really stood out for me. The opening section on loglines, and the near-closing section on breaking out scene beats on The Board. As regular readers know, I like The Board.
The section on loglines is remarkably clarifying. It's parallel to our exercise here, when we talked about summarizing stories based on one word. You really can't hammer this home enough, as far as I'm concerned. Until you have that northstar -- your logline -- you shouldn't start writing. Now, Snyder's approach is very much based around the marketability of your concept based on the logline, but I'll spot him that just such a hard-headed approach may be needed for a lot of spec monkeys. If you're going to do your shaggy dog "my sexual awakening at summer camp" spec, God bless, but if you're aiming for your "into the business" sale, this is probably a more effective approach.
The middle sections are based around his 10 Story Genres, and then his 15-point Blake Snyder beat sheet. I'm not sure if I buy his Story Genres, but I'll give him this -- they're amusingly counterintuitive. They're based around the conflicts within the story rather than the settings -- which is smart -- but seem inherently limited to the approach Snyder himself would take to the story. That said, anyone who can argue Die Hard and Schindler's List are the same genre damn well deserves some kudos for cajones alone. If nothing else the genres sparked some lengthy debate between myself and some other writers in the office. Considering we've all been doing this for 15+ years, that idea's at least worth a spin.
The Beat Sheet is kind of a personalized hybrid of Syd Field and Paul Gulino's sequence approach (was that really in 2005? Geesh ...). Snyder admits here that even though he knows a section of the story calls out for a certain kind of execution, he's not sure why. While an experienced writer can look at his structure and apply his own conflict tools to these sections, some newbies might be left a little adrift. Basically, I think he's shorthanding a little here.
He wraps with a plotting approach using scene cards. Refreshingly he moves past just using them to plot; he uses them to track emotional change and opposition, beat by beat. I will say this over and over, and often scrawl it atop the script that I'm working on myself -- a scene without opposition and emotional change is not a scene you need in the show. Or, as I've bellowed in my writers' room countless times:
"Who wants what, why can't they get it, and why do I give a shit?"
I believe Chris even found my card ...
Snyder has another book -- Save the Cat Goes to the Movies -- which explores his 10 Genres further, with examples from modern flicks. He also has a blog, here, that I'll be adding to the sidebar pretty soon.
So, recommendation for the Spec Monkey? I'd give it a strong recommend (I actually prefer Goes to the Movies a bit more, myself). I do, as always, suggest that it be part of your balanced diet of influences. Read it as a basic text, glean what you can from it, then put it down and pick it back up once you've gotten a few hundred more pages under your belt.