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.

Cover of Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder.

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 observed, “most books about writing are filled with bullshit… the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.”

Amen.

 

Buy Save the Cats on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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Cover of the historical fantasy novel Witch in the White City, by Nick Wisseman.

"... a wild ride sure to please lovers of supernatural historical mysteries."

Publishers Weekly

 

Neva’s goals at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago are simple. Enjoy the spectacle—perhaps the greatest the United States has ever put on (the world’s fair to end all world’s fairs!). Perform in the exposition’s Algerian Theatre to the best of her abilities. And don’t be found out as a witch.

Easy enough … until the morning she looks up in the Theatre and sees strangely marked insects swarming a severed hand in the rafters.

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