Thursday, February 24, 2011

Save the Cat!

In Hooked, Les Edgerton says, 'As a culture, we've been trained to receive stories visually by movies and television since at least the fifties.' And it's true. Americans experience more screen time than page-turning moments. I imagine the average person uses the standard movie template as a benchmark for what makes a good book.

Movies are necessarily made of tight writing. They only have two hours to convey a whole story. Books do get more wiggle room, and avid readers will enjoy more depth to the characters, themes, and plots that movies only skim, but I do think there is something to be said for taking a good hard look at the core of what makes a good movie and putting that toward what makes a good book.

Save the Cat! claims it is the last book on screenwriting I'll ever need. I take that to mean it's the only book on screenwriting I'll ever need, since I'm not really interested in writing screenplays. Mostly, I just want to see what makes them tick.

Save the Cat! does that and more. It shows me how to find or make a High Concept (since Hollywood is the king of High Concept). It shows me the ten most universal plots, and what elements count in each one (so I can find which one I've written and sharpen the focus). It shows me how to see and then strengthen the character arc of any hero. It gives me the fifteen pieces of the universal movie template, plus how long each piece should be, where it falls in the story, and how to build it on a storyboard (with conflict!). And, of course, it reveals a few pitfalls and techniques.

If you want to know why it helps your hero to 'save the cat' or how putting the 'pope in the pool' can assist you in backstory, read this book. Also read it if your middle gets murky, your ending falls flat, or your hero lacks luster.

How much do you think the tenets of movies or television apply to literature? Have these medias influenced your reader expectations?


  1. "Save the Cat!" sounds like a good refresher on all the writing strategies that have been preached over the years. Thanks for recommending it.

  2. Thanks Nancy. For me, this book really was a new perspective and fresh take on classic writing advice.