I just finished studying and enjoyingÂ Save the Cat!Â : the Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder.
A Screenwriting Book for a Novelist
Save the Cat! is ostensibly a screenwriting book and I am an aspiring novelist, not screenwriter. But it’s all storytelling. And storytelling is about learning how to tell stories first, then figuring out the specific details of your medium second. There are a few things in here that are specific to scripts, but 90% of it can be applied to novels. There are just things that make a story work, that make a story good, no matter what medium you use to tell that story. And thatâ€™s what I was looking for in this book.
Simplistic but Useful
This book provides a good starting base for writing. The most useful aspect of it is the way it gives you a structure (even a page-by-page outline of what should happen when) to write from.
I firmly believe in structure. Not in being a slave to structure or writing formulaic pieces, but in using structure as a tool. In Junior High, I learned the 5-paragraph essay structure really well. It became a fantastic tool that allowed me to easily and simply communicateâ€”and get good grades. In college, I followed the same format, but modified it. 5 paragraphs aren’t enough for a 10-page paper, so I added more to the structure. But if you looked closely, you could still see that the spine of my paper was still the 5-paragraph basic structure. Thatâ€™s the value of Save the Cat!. If youâ€™re a slave to the structure it offers, your work will fail, just as a 10-page paper with only 5 paragraphs will fail. But if you use it as a tool, a base to start from, your story will be much stronger.
Story by McKee, another screenwriting book useful to novelists, covers much more than Save the Cat!, but is also SO much more overwhelming. Story awoke my inner editorâ€”and wouldnâ€™t let it sleep again, which paralyzed me. I couldnâ€™t keep writing until I put Story aside and jailed my inner editor for a while. Save the Cat! is by no means overwhelming like that. It lives on solid, practical ground and doesnâ€™t fly up in the realm of theory much.
Of course, that’s also a drawback, but only when you’re ready for more advanced work. In the beginning,Â Save the Cat!Â is best.
Above all, the best idea fromÂ Save the Cat!Â is the one-line summary. The book is worth reading alone for chapter 1. It has changed how I look at writing. You hear the advice all the time to have an â€œelevator speechâ€ prepared to describe your story in 30 seconds. Most writers, I think, create this at the end, after the story is finished. But if you start with the elevator speech, you have a bullâ€™s eye to aim for as you write. A solid, real, center to unite your story. The major problem with my current work is it wasnâ€™t united. It was a bunch of events connected only by the fact that they happened to the same person.
I found the beat sheetÂ useful, though simplistic. For a writer who is struggling with the plotting aspect, itâ€™s useful. I will not be a slave to the beat sheet, but it is a great structure to build on. I modified the page numbers to work for a 350-page novel instead of Snyder’s 110-page script.
Snyder’s list of genres is fun and interesting, though simplistic. My grandpa always claimed there were only 10 movie plots. And it’s true that there’s nothing new under the sun–it’sÂ how you tell stories, not the story you tell, that is unique.
I highly recommendÂ Save the Cat! as a tool to help you learn storytelling, whether you’re writing scripts or novels. It’s simple and basic, but that’s what you need to get started.