Whenever novelists get together, they always talk about movies. Part of it is a common language. We’re more likely to see the same movie than read the same book. More importantly, movies are novel shorthand. Everything a writer needs to do in a novel, a writer also needs to do in a screenplay. But in a screenplay, it’s both more compressed and more heightened. You can see the turning points and act breaks in movies, whereas in novels, they are more subtle. So, although screenwriters and novelists use many of the same writing techniques, they are easier to analyze in movies.
SAVE THE CAT! by Blake Snyder starts where most novelists end–with the log line and pitch. Writing the pitch before the novel is a new way of thinking for most of us. However, Snyder insists that doing it will help you refine your concept, saving you hours of rewriting later. From there, he talks about the ten kinds of movies, focusing not on genre, but on the core conflict. Once you know what kind of story you have, you can look at other successful examples.
All that is fun, but it might apply more to movies than to novels. Not so the middle section. The heart of the book is Snyder teaching about structure. What are the essential scenes, and where should they fall in the story? He’s not teaching a formula. He’s teaching the universal story structure that we all instinctively understand, but (up to now) did not have adequate labels for. It fits every time, for every movie, and to prove it, Snyder analyzes hit movies from different genres, showing where those scenes (or beats) fit.
Once I understood this fundamental structure, two things happened–I started to see the beats in every movie I watched, and I started to understand the structure of long-form narrative on a deep level. Once I saw it, it was impossible not to see it. Applying it to my novels seemed natural.
This is not to say that Snyder’s screenplay outline fits one hundred percent into the novel form. The mediums are different! For example, movies begin before the main story starts, while novels begin when things are already happening (in medias res). However, Snyder’s outline is a good way to think about story structure in general. For novelists who never before used an outline, this could be a completely new concept.
In short, this nifty book about screenplays can teach you everything you need to know about plotting a novel.
SAVE THE CAT can be found here.
Rating: 5 stars!
This book is best for: intermediate to advanced writers
I recommend this book
4 thoughts on “Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder”
I was unaware of this book until I read your blog. I’m going to buy (and read!) a copy.
I try for a cinematic approach in my fiction writing, so this sounds like it will be right up my alley. As an author and movie lover, I appreciate the opportunity to blend these two interests.
Thanks for the comment, Jim. I promise you will love SAVE THE CAT!
Nice blog post. Sweetie has been a screen writer, director, and producer and brought that valuable viewpoint to his critique of my writing. Yes, a novel doesn’t have to be quite as tight as a screenplay, but it’s a good disciplined approach to compare your work against.
I’m going to pick up this book – thanks!
Thanks for stopping by the blog, Debra! I hope you like SAVE THE CAT! as much as I did.