BWW Book Reviews: SAVE THE CAT! By Blake Snyder
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by Greg Reuter
SAVE THE CAT! The Last Book On Screenwriting That You'll Ever Need, by Blake Snyder.
I intend to review several mini-genres of theater books in this column, anecdotal, critical, nostalgic, historical- but all share The Common thread of risk, social relevance and of great storytelling structure.
I remember when I was in college, (proudly at Western Michigan University), I was taken aback by the sheer amount of heavy books I had to purchase for my classes. I’m proud to say 90% of them reside in beautiful oaken bookshelves in my home office. These books represent the nutrients that exist beyond the classroom. I will attest that learning the craft and beautiful art of live theatre require a hands-on environment. However, ruminating on the musings and instructions of your predecessors (who are probably smarter than most of us) whilst sitting with your required reading is ESSENTIAL.
I want to begin this column journey with a book my writing partner mailed to me (via Amazon!). “Save The Cat”. The concept is simple and concise. This is a book about how to turn an idea into a great, sellable story. What separates it from the other shelves of writing books is that it addresses the need to make positive choices in your writing style. Meaning- it’s better to save the cat, than to kill the cat when you are constructing a narrative. Snyder makes a case that a positive choice aligns the viewer with the protagonist (a device that seems to be lacking in many modern properties). Of course this is a broad metaphor, but if you open up your creative iris, you start to drift towards its central theme. How many movies or plays end without redemption? (Self-nerd exception “The Empire Strikes Back”).
The book efficiently examines basic storytelling structure, while also giving the ambitious young writer a chance to hear advice about how to streamline your story and how to keep raising the stakes until there is no choice but a resolution. Think about the great musicals you have seen- they all involve a grand resolution. Straight plays get a “pass card” because the genre intrinsically allows for a more deviant (thematic) device that often inspires specific post-show discussion. Art that doesn’t challenge the viewer in the center cannot exist on the fringes. This is why I LOVE lives theater. Having the interpersonal experience of seeing a great play with a friend or loved one, and then having the privilege to discuss it afterwards is still better than most cinema.
“Save The Cat” is (if nothing else) incredibly efficient in it’s vessel of knowledge to the willing. Is it full of all original ideas? No. Is it concise in it’s presentation and verbiage- yes.
Author Blake Snyder made millions in the screenwriting game, and his clear cut methods to establishing story structure are still relevant. His conversational tone puts the reader at ease and inspires long term writing goals. But beyond Hollywood, one can’t help but recognize that these are the principles of storytelling, alive and well on Broadway and the American Theater.
What can one expect to learn from this book?
1)- How to boil down a story idea to it’s infrastructure.
2)- How to beat out your plot elements.
3)- How to adapt to production notes without losing your focus.
4)- 10 genres that distinguish how stories are told.
5)- How to be your own marketing machine.
6)- Story, story, story…