These are book notes for Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder. I paused about 30 pages in on my first read, about a year ago. I was reading Nobody Wants to Read Your Shi* recently, and Steven Pressfield mentions Save the Cat as a great resource. I picked it back up and finished it this time around. Here are some excerpts I enjoyed.
The number one thing a good logline must have, the single most important element, is: irony.
Save the Cat stresses the importance of loglines. Nobody Wants to Read Your Shi* talks about concepts in ad campaigns. Good concepts lead to lots of good ad copy that works as a hole. A logline helps keep a movie anchored.
Now that the posts are adding up, I’m thinking about the bigger picture of this 100 days, 100 posts project. What’s my logline? Considering irony is important. Maybe that stacking two crappy pages each day leads to something valuable. But you need to believe.
Hopefully I have a better logline when I’m 100 days in. Though that’s working backwards.
Because liking the person we go on a journey with is the single most important element in drawing us into the story.
He describes Lara Croft as “cold and humorless” in the movie version of Tomb Raider. On the other hand, we’d probably be happy following Mark Watney on any journey he decides to take. As far as writing goes, maybe I need to start thinking about being likable. That didn’t work in 7th grade… but it might work this time.
The theme of every Golden Fleece movie is internal growth; how the incidents affect the hero is, in fact, the plot.
One of the best things in the book is the different nicknames for concepts. Maybe I can do a small sketch for five different concepts in the book. Save the Cat (make your main character likable), etc.
Now look at The Matrix and compare and contrast it with the Disney/Pixar hit Monsters, Inc. Yup. Same movie.
The most immediately applicable part of the book is Blake Snyder’s 15-step beat sheet. As far as 80/20 goes, the beat sheet is the crucial 20% of Save the Cat. Snyder points out how different movies apply these beats. Some more than others, but they’re there if you keep an eye out.
A team updates the Save the Cat website, and I was happy to see that their beat sheet list is still updated. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Independence Day
- Game of Thrones — pilot episode
- The Martian: It has one of my favorite “Fun and Games” sequences in recent years
Pick some movies you like and check the beat sheet out for an idea of how all the concepts can be found in different movies.
“This sure isn’t like the time I was the star fullback for the N.Y. Giants until my… accident.”
That’s one of Blake’s examples of bad dialogue you want to avoid writing. As far as things I want to pursue: I’d like to write how Blake Snyder writes. Save the Cat ‘s fun to read. Plenty of people disagree with that, and I imagine they’re out writing very sophisticated screenplays. Doing a little bit of searching, I’ve learned that it’s a polarizing book. And people will go as far as saying it’s ruined movies in the past few years1.
Blake Snyder passed away in 2009. It would’ve been great to hear what he thinks about the industry today and if any of the tips would change (I doubt it). He comes across really encouraging in his writing:
Would you blanch if I told you it was just a matter of turning the crank again and again until something happens? Because that’s all it takes. Just keep turning the crank. Any inroad, any one at all, is a gigantic leap forward.
Screenplays tell stories in fewer words than novels. They have to. The rules are set. You can self-publish a 1200 page behemoth at your leisure, but (for all intents and purposes) you can’t quite self-produce your 250 page screenplay.
Hollywood is filled with storytellers, and successful nonfiction writers know how to tell interesting, concise stories. I can learn a lot about applying these lessons, even if I’m not writing a screenplay. I’ll read his other two books later this year—maybe before this 100 days, 100 posts project ends.
In the meantime, I’ll be thinking about structure and storytelling2 in my future posts.
- Though if Hollywood really was making films based on Save the Cat, well, that sounds like a ringing endorsement for the book. A portion of the book focuses on how to get your screenplay noticed. The book operates under the notion that selling your screenplay is the goal. Nobody remembers an unproduced screenplay for its literary merits. It’s either made into a movie or it’s not. ↩
- Peter Suderman wrote that Slate article about Save the Cat following Save the Cat’s beat sheet. ↩