The title of Blake Snyder’s book, ‘Save The Cat!’, refers to a tactic used to endear the lead character to the film viewer. In other words, by saving the cat, it’s an instant recognition that the lead character, no matter his or her nature, has redeeming features and that you will stay to the end to see how it works out. Other animals or means are available, just this appears to be the better title.
‘Save The Cat!’ has been available since 2005 and is considered a must read by learning and active scriptwriters as to what should be followed when scriptwriting. Ever the curious one, I wanted to see what I could learn from it for prose stories. Snyder explains from the start that scriptwriting is a business and therefore needs a business strategy to be successful in self-promotion and networking through the Hollywood system if it wants to stand a chance in being turned into a film. Whether it would work as well in the UK, you’ll have to decide for yourself. Certainly, there are some aspects that will work in most countries.
Some things are markedly different. Coming up with the promotional selling line first isn’t something that springs to mind for me but you might find it handy if you’re describing to your friends what you’re writing. Likewise, the ten categories of film types certainly doesn’t match our standard genres but they do divide into them and has given me some serious thought as to plot variation. Overall, they provide the beats for each film and the pattern examples across the genres. If anything, once you start analysing, you realise genre is irrelevant and they share the same plot beats in how story to tell before moving on. Indeed, Snyder encourages you to compare when events happen in the films to these last minutes. I’m still pondering how people don’t see them when watching, although I suspect it’s the level of concentration that you don’t. That and not watching to a stopwatch. Whether that will remain the same when you get analysing will depend on your individual mindset.
Snyder isn’t afraid to show how long it took him to learn what he has in this book. No matter how you want to re-invent the wheel, you’re still going to have to realise you can’t evade them if you want to make a saleable successful script. Indeed, he gives a twelve beat, for the want of a better word, formula and shows why it works. I hesitated over the word ‘formula’ because this isn’t so much scripting by numbers, more like the nature of timing the pace of a story. I’m sorely tempted to write a prose story to it and see if it works the same way.
There’s a lot of useful info given, a lot I’m familiar with under different names. What Snyder calls ‘Double Mumbo Jumbo’ we call a fudge factor, a serious defiance of practical science like time travel in the story but without it, the story wouldn’t be possible. You shouldn’t really have more than one in a story. I love his solution to giving exposition. Just put your characters in an uncomfortable position while they are explaining something which also works for bolstering up a flat plot or story. If you think that might be a problem with your story in any format, it’s worth reading Snyder to feed you some ideas where to look. When you add emotional content to this, you build another layer into the story.
I should say that Snyder does not tell you how to write his way but more about how plots work, especially in film, and how to improve your chances of selling your script, especially if you’re new to the business. I did have a crazy thought of thousands of new scriptwriters doing all of this at the same time, although I suspect many of you will be stuck creating an ‘original’ idea for a long while.
Snyder refers to his own career from time to time but I wish he’d explained why he preferred to work with another co-writer than going solo. I mean, if it is an option, why not explain why you might consider working with a writing partner. Is it to act as sounding boards to each other, combining different skill bases or what?
I can understand why people have found this book informative. There are some aspects that can be applied to prose in terms of setting up a plot although whether you apply it to pages than times only you can decide. I suspect I’ll be returning to it from time to time, if only because I see things I need to apply to how many plots there are out there.
(pub: Michael Wiese Productions. 194 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $19.95 (US), £11.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-932907-00-1)