Non-Fiction Book Review – Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies

  • Title: Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies
  • Author: Blake Snyder
  • Subject: Screen Writing
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 06/07/2020

Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies is a sequel to Save the Cat! and it basically does “what it says on the tin” – after a short summary of the original Save the Cat! and the author’s theory of the structure of film, it goes on to provide examples of Synder’s ten genres of film and their sub-genres. Synder organizes Genre not in the traditional way (SF, Fantasy, cop show, mystery, horror, etc.) but in terms of the structure of the film and how it hits the beats of the Synder Beat Sheet. Thus though one type of his Genre might mostly align with traditional genre (eg Horror and Monster in the House) often the genres don’t align. This forces a deeper emphasis on the underlying structure of all films, which is good for students or career screenwriters looking to improve their skills. Also, if you read Save the Cat and some of the genres didn’t quite make sense to you or you wanted better examples, this is the perfect book to pick up. More examples are always helpful, especially when you are new to something.

The book, after the introduction, is split into ten chapters, one per genre, with one example per sub-genre, and a simple list of other examples. The chosen example is then analyzed in terms of Synder’s three-act structure and Beat Sheet. Again, this provides lots of examples of how Synder approaches screenwriting. Although it is obviously helpful if you’ve actually seen (and seen recently) the films discussed if you haven’t the beat sheets provide enough information to follow the analysis. Also, if you haven’t seen some of these films, you can still follow the discussion. I didn’t feel like it spoiled the movie, even though the entire plot is described in terms of structure. This is because of the emphasis on structure not a summary of the plot.

The only negative is there are no examples from older, classic films. The oldest films in the entire book are from the 1970s and I really could have used at least one example from films of the 1930s and 1940s. At least in the “Buddy” film category (where he puts romantic comedies), there are plenty of examples in Classic film from Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story to Shall We Dance and other Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire films (which I maintain are Romantic Comedies with singing and dancing). The book is also copyright 2007 so it doesn’t include anything more recent than that, and thus really misses the opportunity to discuss great Epic films (he should have picked something from the 1960s like Ben-Hur or Antony and Cleopatra and if not that Lord of the Rings). And of course, the Save the Cat! series is about popular Hollywood film so foreign films aren’t included, though many would fit into the same structural patterns and the same beats.

Overall, I really liked Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies it is good to have more examples, and the problem of films being discussed that I haven’t seen, or haven’t seen for a long time can be solved by renting or borrowing said films. The lack of classic films could be solved by a second volume concentrating on older movies. I also like Synder’s method of analyzing film, it is a different approach. I do plan on buying additional volumes in this series. Highly recommended, especially for film students and fans.

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.

Non-Fiction Textbook Review – How to Get Started as a Technical Writer

  • Title: How to Get Started as a Technical Writer
  • Author: James Gill
  • Subject: Technical Writing
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 04/24/2013

In a sense this book does exactly what it says on the tin, especially if you include the subtitle questions. But that’s why I loved it. As a person in their early 40s looking at a career change, this book answered all the questions I had, and then some. It also confirmed that I had finally made the right choice in finding a career I’d love. Technical writing seems like the perfect career for a perpetual student with a love of writing.

This book is brief (only 70 pages), clear-cut, and full of no-nonsense advice and information. It’s a practical guide, and although the author occasionally uses personal examples, it does not read like a tell-all book or expose’, rather it’s a plain, common-sense guide to the realities of working in the technical writing field. The author is calm, not condescending, helpful, not hurtful, and has no political agenda other than to answer questions from potential technical writers and offer practical help and advice. It makes for a nice change from several of the “career manuals” out there which seem to think anyone investigating a new career is a potential rival who must be shot down – cruelly.

Most of the chapter titles are questions, and the chapter accurately answers those questions. Additionally, each chapter offers “Do This” assignments, which far from being pointless homework, are practical suggestions for investigating the tech writing field, and also in some cases examples of things to do that can be applied to any new career, whether you are a 24-year old new college graduate, or a 40-something looking to try something new. I really wish I had read this book my senior year in college.

Chapters include:
• Who is this book for?
• How to use this book
• My story
• Why become a Technical Writer?
• What is Technical Writing?
• Life as a technical writer
• Five Must-Have Skills
• Should I get more education or training?
• How do I get experience?
• How do I get hired?
• Putting it all together
• Resources
• Glossary

Again, this is a practical no-nonsense career guide. It’s a helpful tool for the new technical writer. Unlike other writing guides and career books I’ve looked at or read, it’s completely free of condescending talk — and avoids re-hashing advice you find everywhere from Monster to The Ladders. And yes, it’s well written.

My highest recommendation. Oh, and by the way, if you are a perpetual student who loves writing – technical writing might be the career for you!

Non-Fiction Textbook Review – Spring into Technical Writing for Scientists and Engineers

  • Title: Spring into Technical Writing for Scientists and Engineers
  • Author: Barry J. Rosenberg
  • Subject: Technical Writing
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 08/22/2012

Update: – Read this for a technical writing class, back in 2012, per the date on GoodReads.

Spring into Technical Writing is a textbook, however, it is useful and even amusing at times. Some of the examples are a bit overwhelming but I like a challenge, and they weren’t so dense as to be completely off-putting or to cause me to put the book down.

This was a very readable textbook. It kept my interest and was a quick read. It also seemed to be full of good advice. I really liked the “bad”, “better”, “good”, “best” examples throughout the book and it could have used even more. I did at times find that the book was a bit simplistic (I do know, believe it or not, the difference between a serif and sans-serif font) and throughout the book often the starting point for a section or chapter was too easy. On the other hand, the chapter on HTML was very difficult for me. Yes, I realize this wasn’t a manual on learning HTML, but that seemed to be the only section in the book that assumed some pre-knowledge that I didn’t have. (The web is like a car, I can use it but I don’t know or care how it works. I know more about how a server and a network “serve” web pages, and the meaning of terms like “caching web browser” than I do about HTML – and I’ve learned more HTML from the Goodreads website than any web design book I’ve read or class I started then quit). But I digress. Other than the HTML section, which I intend to re-read, I found this textbook to be light-hearted, useful, and fun to read. The humor and examples helped.

Second Update: Since reading this book, I’ve learned more HTML by using WordPress, and from my four-month stint as a knowledge base writer/editor. So I should probably re-read the HTML section and see if it’s less confusing.

The Ghost Writes Back – from Tumblr

tetw:

by Amy Boesky

For six years during my twenties, I worked as one of the principal ghostwriters for a mass-market series for teenaged girls called Sweet Valley High. Years later, I’m still trying to make sense of what these books meant to me—why I wrote so many of them, and why (eventually) I stopped…

I remember reading those books.  Great essay on writing, and ghostwriting.

The Ghost Writes Back

Ask An Author: “How do you create realistic-feeling characters?”

lettersandlight:

image

Each week, a new author will serve as your Camp Counselor, answering your writing questions. Marivi Soliven, our second counselor, has taught writing workshops at the University of California, San Diego and at the University of the Philippines. Her most recent novel, The Mango Bride,…

Sounds like good advice!

Ask An Author: “How do you create realistic-feeling characters?”