Non-Fiction Textbook Review – Save the Cat!

  • Title: Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need
  • Author: Blake Snyder
  • Subject: Screen Writing
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/27/2020

I loved this book! It’s not that often that you can say about a textbook that you genuinely enjoyed reading it but yes, reading this book was an enjoyable experience. Blake Synder’s writing is amusing, engaging, and useful! Save the Cat is a book about the structure of screenwriting. And in particular, it’s about the structure of big-budget, popular, Hollywood films – the type that lots of people see and that make lots of money and the type that a new screenwriter, writing on spec, can actually sell. You need to know the rules before you even consider breaking them, and Save the Cat teaches you the rules.

Save the Cat cheerfully explains the structure of popular film: 3 Acts, 15 beats, 40 scenes. Snyder introduces tools like The Board – a way to quickly visualize your screenplay before you start writing. And he talks about ways to fix your screenplay after it’s written. How to improve it – from flat characters to scenes that don’t quite work. Each chapter ends with exercises to help the reader learn and emphasize the chapter (full disclosure, I didn’t do the exercises. Yes, I did not do my homework. But I intend to re-read Save the Cat and do the exercises the second time around.) This is a practical how-to manual. And it seems like it would be useful for any type of writer.

Save the Cat also introduces a novel classification system for popular films. Instead of genres like mystery, romance, SF, superhero, etc. Save the Cat uses plots and characters as genres, so we have: “Dude with a Problem”, and “Buddy Love”, and “Superhero” (but not just Marvel or DC films, or even the Greek Myths – but any story with a hero beyond the norm (Dracula, Frankenstein, A Beautiful Mind, Gladiator, etc.) It takes a bit of getting used to, but this plot/character basis to describe films is a great way to think about movies when you are hoping to write one. There are ten genres in all.

Again, I loved this book! How often does one really truly love reading a textbook? You can learn from a textbook. Occasionally one is well-written. Oh, and that title? Save the Cat refers to the absolute necessity of your audience actually liking your main character. So, if the character is a bit of a jerk, he or she must do something nice so the audience will like them. They must Save the Cat. But this book, Save the Cat, is just fun. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the craft of writing.

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