Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need (by the late Blake Snyder) is a simple, no-nonsense explanation of effective story structure. Ever since I attended Alexandra Sokoloff’s fabulous session at last year’s RWA Conference, I’ve been interested in how the movie world relates to novels. After reading Save the Cat! I’m more convinced than ever, that authors can learn a lot from screenwriters.
Likeable protagonists, for example.This is where the title Save the Cat! comes in. Imagine a scene where the audience meets the hero of a movie for the first time. The hero does something nice—e.g. saving a cat—that makes the audience like him or her. It’s something very simple, that helps the audience invest themselves in the character and the story.
Similarly to Sokoloff, Snyder offers a sheet of necessary beats or movie plot points – essentially a blueprint for compelling screenplay structure. Making a story board with index cards is the next step. This approach is equally helpful for fiction, and particularly for popular fiction. Snyder breaks down narrative theory in a very straightforward way, and with a great sense of humor. He has a lot of tough things to say about elevator pitches and themes as well. Snyder says that if you can’t come up with a great single sentence log-line, you may not have a story. And he says a movie’s thematic premise needs to be stated in the first five minutes. Yes, actually stated, in an offhand remark, or question that the main character doesn’t quite get yet. To do this, you need to know exactly what your story is about, right from the start. Honesty is the best policy perhaps, or Be careful what you wish for. Nailing theme and structure early on is great advice I think, for authors too.
As I work through my Currawong Creek edits, I’m keeping in mind all these screenwriting tricks. They’ll also guide the writing of my new book, helping to set the story on firm foundations.