Re: Save the Cat!

It’s funny that a recent comment mentions movies and TV as a source for your scifi and fantasy fix, as I am interested in screenplays. In fact, some of the more emphatic statements about storytelling are found in screenwriting books. For example, Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder, which I first heard about on The Writing Show. According to Snyder, “Save The Cat” means that very near the beginning of the movie, your hero needs to do something that gets the audience’s sympathy. Even an antihero needs to reveal something in them that is worth caring about. And there’s plenty more that you must do to satisfy his principles.

You must be able to describe your story in a way a caveman could understand. You must know what genre of story you are telling. By genre, he doesn’t mean thriller or scifi, he means what kind of plot. In the age-old attempt to list the kinds of plot, this book breaks movies down into ten genres.

For example, “Monster in the House” is a story in which your characters are trapped in a confined space. (If it wasn’t confined, they could escape, and it wouldn’t be much of a story.) Someone has committed a sin prompting the creation of a supernatural monster that kills the offenders and spares the innocent. In this view, “Jaws” and “Alien” are the same kind of movie.

Then it goes on to give you a structure to fill in, describes how to storyboard your ideas and scenes, and tells you go write. As if anyone reading a writing book is actually going to immediately put the book down and go write. If you could do that, you wouldn’t be reading a writing book. Assuming you’ve written something you’re ready to edit, the book lists “The Immutable Laws of Screenplay Physics,” offers a grab bag of writing advice, and concludes with a glossary.

As always, there are certain bits of advice that ring true as things I need to hear right now. The title principle makes sense to me. I’ve heard before, that all your characters must change, except the villains. But a new suggestion is that if your hero isn’t changing enough, push them back at the beginning. Show the audience what they were like before they became so admirable.

The opening makes a promise about the premise of the story. (Though it strikes me as heavy-handed to have a minor character make a statement of the premise on page 5.) The middle of the move fulfills that promise by showing the premise in action. Every good movie is a debate about the pros and cons of the point of view embodied in the premise.

All this is stated in compelling, provocative prose.

The end?