Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

I love Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

I’ve been using Snyder’s fifteen-item beat sheet to analyze movies. The beat sheet has helped me remember movies after I’ve watched them, and has also helped me appreciate their twists and turns as they happen. Ultimately, I hope internalizing the beat sheet will help me as a writer.

A 2013 Slate article blamed Snyder for a slew of bad movies, claiming that ever since he published his ‘formula’, movie-makers have slavishly followed it, to the detriment of art. It’s hard to disagree, until you read the rebuttal, which is that bad movies exist because making good movies is hard. Okay, yeah, fair enough.

Storytelling is an old art, and stories already had a three-act structure back when Aristotle was around, because he wrote about it. Nobody blames Joseph Campbell, with his famous Jungian Hero with a Thousand Faces, for ruining storytelling by outlining the meta-myth from which all myths spring. No more should we blame Snyder for understanding how best to bend myths into movies.

I read the Campbell book in 2014; didn’t much care for it. I’ve considered reading Christopher Vogler’s book The Writer’s Journey, but I suspect it’s more on Campbell’s end of the spectrum than Synder’s. Somewhere sitting happily in the middle is Robert J. Bly’s book The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel, which leverages many mythological archetypes and terms from Greek rhetoric but explains and exemplifies them usefully, often giving tips for writing novels lifted from—you guessed it—the discipline of screenwriting. I’m tempted to read something by Syd Field or Robert McKee, but then, at least at this point, I’m not actually interested in screenwriting per se.

Save the Cat isn’t all about the much-maligned beat sheet; if it were, the book would be called Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet instead. What else is in the book?

  • how to write and test a good logline (one sentence movie concept)
  • Blake’s list of 10 unconventional movie “genres”
  • how to choose a hero
  • how to arrange your scenes on “the board” (use four rows; one row of about 10 scenes for Act I, two for Act II, one for Act III)
  • how to leverage a handful of quirkily named commonsense rules of screenplay writing (including Save the Cat)
  • how to troubleshoot a weak screenplay
  • what to do after you finish writing a screenplay
  • a glossary of terms (industry terms and Snyderisms)

Right, so, what does “Save the Cat” mean anyway? It just means that your protagonist should do or experience something very early on to win the audience’s support.

When and Why I Read Save the Cat

I have read this book before. It has been great at helping me think about plot. In fact, I have the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet on the wall by my computer. I read the book again to get a firmer grip on the details. There is so much more good advice than I remembered. How does it all fit in such a short book with so much whitespace? I don’t know how he did it.

Genre: non-fiction (movies, writing)
Date started / date finished:  26-Feb-17 to 04-March-17
Length: 195 pages
ISBN: 9781932907001 (paperback)
Originally published in: 2005
Amazon link: Save the Cat