Book Review: Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder
It’s tempting to say the best thing about Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! is the title. (And the cover—don’t let go, kitty! HOLD ON!) But there’s some good stuff about the craft of writing inside.
If you haven’t read a book about story structure, Snyder’s prescriptions for writing a screenplay (or novel) could be illuminating. If you have, his breakdown of the standard three-act formula won’t seem terribly new—it’s basically Aristotle’s beginning, middle, and end, plus some tweaks. (Most writing how-to books preach some variation of this.)
His tips are fun, though. The best one forms the book’s title: “Save the Cat” is Snyder’s rule that, to get the audience on the protagonist’s side, he/she needs to do something likable almost immediately… like saving a cat. But it doesn’t have to be that blatant. Here’s one of Snyder’s examples:
“In the thriller, Sea of Love, Al Pacino is a cop. Scene One finds him in the middle of a sting operation. Parole violators have been lured by the promise of meeting the Yankees, but when they arrive it’s Al and his cop buddies waiting to bust them. So Al’s “cool.” (He’s got a cool idea for a sting anyway.) But on his way out he also does something nice. Al spots another lawbreaker, who’s brought his son, coming late to the sting. Seeing the Dad with his kid, Al flashes his badge at the man who nods in understanding and exits quick. Al lets this guy off the hook because he has his young son with him. And just so you know Al hasn’t gone totally soft, he also gets to say a cool line to the crook: “Catch you later…” Well, I don’t know about you, but I like Al. I’ll go anywhere he takes me now and you know what else? I’ll be rooting to see him win. All based on a two-second interaction between Al and a Dad with his baseball-fan kid."
Snyder has some other useful insights as well, like his approach to storyboarding and charting the emotional change and conflict of each scene. The movie references can feel dated—Save the Cat’s been out for more than a decade—but overall, I found this a worthwhile read.
And it’s short. Which is great, because as Stephen King famously observed, “most books about writing are filled with bullshit… the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.”
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