Monday, October 27, 2008

Save the Cat

If you have paid attention lately, you probably know that I am a fan of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. A big part of that is because he views writing in a similar way to how I viewed it before I read his book. If there is any book that should be recognized for its crossover potential, it his Save the Cat. I first came across the book after hearing the author of a computer book refer to it as indispensable to her work. Many novelists are using this book as a guide. The truly fascinating thing is that Save the Cat bears the subtitle The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. That’s right, Save the Cat is a book about screenwriting.

Obviously, there are many similarities in all forms of storytelling and that explains why there is so much crossover. It makes little different whether a writer puts a save the cat scene in a novel, a script or a computer manual, it will have the same affect of making someone look good. The beats Blake says are in all good screenplays are easy to find in great novels as well. Look at the opening scene of Blue Sword by Robin McKinley and see if you don’t see a status quo equals death moment there.

She scowled at her glass of orange juice. To think that she had been delighted when she first arrived here—was it only three months ago?—with the prospect of fresh orange juice every day.

The beats are all in Blue Sword. The catalyst or inciting incident occurs at almost exactly the right spot. I haven’t checked the other beats, but Blake Snyder’s theory seems to hold up very well with one of Robin’s most loved books.

As much as I like the beats in Save the Cat, applying the beats to a novel requires some manipulation. Unlike a movie, which can show an event in less than a second, a novel may have significant explanation to tell the reader about the even. Yeah, I know we are supposed to show and not just tell, but the fact is that when we compare a novel to a movie, the novel is all telling while the movie is all showing. At least it is supposed to be.

There are things that work in novels that don’t work in movies and vise versa. While that doesn’t keep Blake’s theory from working with novels, where his beats can be identified with a page number in a script, they may be spread across several pages in a novel. The novelist constantly finds himself asking, How does this apply to a novel? rather than simply laying it out as described.