Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Resource Review: Save the Cat

After well over two dozen author chats via Skype in my classroom, one book continues to surface on the lips of the authors: Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder.

The first I heard of it, YA author Lizabeth Zindel responded to a question about how a writer can make a character likable.  Zindel references this book and explained that a character may be written to "save a cat" or perform an act of kindness, tenderness, selflessness that immediately renders him/her likable.

Most recently, YA author Irene Latham talked about building her novels through "beats"--a term she learned through Save the Cat.  Latham will write one line for each chapter or significant development in plot--each of those lines represents a beat because each serves a different purpose.  From there, she builds outward from each beat.

I read the book--through much of it Snyder offers a template for how many films are organized...or should be.

Without going into all twelve beats, the first several beats can be summed up as:

Act One - Thesis:
Where the audience sees the world before the adventure starts.
There is a sense that a "storm" is about to hit...things must change.

Catalyst Moment:
A life-changing moment occurs here, often disguised as bad news.
This is the first moment where something happens.

The last chance for the hero to say that this is crazy.
Should I stay or should I go--it's dangerous out there, but what other choice do I have?

Each beat has its own chapter where Snyder explains what it is in depth and he often offers examples from contemporary film to help elucidate his point.

This book is a good tool for writers or, in my case for writing teachers, in that it provides clear examples of how writers plan.  You'd have to tease out Snyder's prescription if you are writing a novel--which Irene Latham must do. For instance, Snyder is so firm about the specific page numbers on which each beat must appear (the "catalyst moment" must appear on page 12 of a script) that everyone would be writing 100 page "novels."

More than the beats of organizing a piece, I found the book to be an interesting and a refreshing resource in that it very directly and distinctly presents some usable ideas and techniques.

August Klimt - artist

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