Monday, March 14, 2011

More On The Saving of Cats

Okay, so I wrote a pretty positive little write-up of the first chapters of Save The Cat last week, right? Then I finished reading the book. And now I feel obligated to provide a disclaimer, because I ended up with mixed feelings.

My problems started at page, um, 51%, when the author, Blake Snyder, went off on the film Memento. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, who I think makes some of the most excellent, intelligent movies around right now, this movie garnered a 93% freshness score on Blake sarcastically calls it a "low-performing art house gem," blasts it as gimmicky and invites debate on "the value of Memento in modern society." Whoa Blake, them's fightin' words.

Meanwhile, throughout the book Snyder keeps pumping up his biggest hit, the 1994 Disney groaner Blank Check. Freshness score: 14%. But hey, it made $30 million at the box office! Something doesn't add up here. And then I saw that Snyder's argument against Memento is apparently based on how much money it made in the box office. Ding! That's the sound of a (noisy?) lightbulb turning on in my head.

Blake Snyder claimed to have written at least 75 scripts at the point of publication. 75?! Clearly he spends a lot of time agonizing over making the most original, unique, meaningful films around. Ahem. He promotes formulaic writing where the catalyst always happens on page 12, the B story always begins on page 30. He is the Francine Pascal, the Fern Michaels, the R.L. Stine of the writing world. And though he may have great some success with his formula, that is not the kind of writer that I aspire to become.

That is not to say that I immediately deleted my digital copy of this book and set my Kindle on fire. There are some good and useful tips hidden tucked away amidst the trash talk. I liked his discussion of thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis in the course of a story. I liked some of his funny rules, like the Pope in the Pool where he talks about how to hide expository sections by distracting the audience with some sort of interesting action or comedy. And I think the troubleshooting section at the end, where he provides a list of things to check for (proactive hero, distinguishably unique dialogue for each of your characters, a complex plotline, etc.) is pretty great. Great enough that I would still suggest that newer writers give it a read--just read it with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Anybody else feel this way about Save the Cat, or any other writing books?


  1. Writing books can be hard to swallow for this reason. I just got a copy of Save the Cat because so many people rave about it. But I think it's like anything else: pick out what you want to use, ignore what you don't. It's okay to change the rules. Memento is one of my favorites. Nolan is a GREAT screenwriter (The Prestige, in my humble opinion, is a masterpiece). But just use what you want to use. Dump the rest!

  2. Yeah, you can't listen to everything (and a lot of it only applies to screenwriting) but I really liked the beat sheet as a way to plot out a book.

  3. I think everything in a how-to book has to be taken with a grain of salt. While a lot of the facts are helpful, writers are fallible. It's hard not to pepper facts with opinions that may or may not be right. If I wrote a how-to book, it might be based more on opinion that fact because of what I think of the writer world. Great post!

  4. I know exactly what you're saying about that book. I took what I wanted to from it and sort of ignored the rest. Yes, we all want to write books that sell, but we also want to write books we are proud to have our names on, and this book doesn't exactly focus on the second part.

    I liked some elements A LOT, but others just weren't for me.

    Anyway, did you hear that Blake Snyder passed away recently? I wonder if he's still getting e-mails about Memento.

  5. Did he say anything about the value of 'Blank Check' in modern society?

    I think you are really right: you need to take what clicks with you from these sorts of books and ignore the rest. Thanks for the review!

  6. Them's fightin' words indeed! I loved Memento and thought it was a unique approach to storytelling. Sure it doesn't fit the formula, but that's no reason to trash it in his book. I trust your judgment on the merits of the rest of it, and I'll just roll my eyes and gloss over the other bits. :)

  7. He dissed Memento??? That movie's brilliant. Still, I've heard good things about the book. I haven't read it yet, but it sounds like it's worth sifting through.