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Dara Naraghi's graphic novel Lifelike is now available in both digital and print editions. Click here for more info.

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Last time I spoke about plot and structure, and if you want the respectable version of that, I will again refer you to Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 basics of writing 101. But if you want the down-and-dirty, sell-your-soul version, let me point you toward Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need.

savethecatWritten by screenwriter Blake Snyder (who died in 2009), Save the Cat! purports to tell you exactly how to write a screenplay that will sell. It steps beyond structure: Save the Cat! prescribes your screenplay should be almost exactly 110 pages, and it tells you exactly which page each beat should appear on.

You heard me. You should state your theme by page 5, break into Act 2 on p25, the bad guys close in pp55-75, and your hero should hit rock bottom on p75. The hero should get his/her shit together and start Act 3 by p85, just in time to win in the end on p110. Check out the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet here.

The last part is a rundown of Blake’s Immutable Laws of Screenplay Physics and common problems in screenplays. They include: too much exposition, too much mumbo jumbo, a passive hero and characters with no “arc.” Blake’s signature maxim, “save the cat,” says that the hero should do something good at the beginning to get you on his side.

I heard about this book a lot when I was doing A Voice From The Dead, which breaks most of these rules. I finally read it a few weeks ago.

As an artiste, I’d like to believe that none of this is true, and nobody should take advice from the writer of this or, for fuck’s sake, this. As a struggling artist, I sometimes suspect he’s right about everything.

My feeling is, this Save the Cat! stuff is a good diagnostic tool, rather than a blueprint. If you’re following it as a guide, you’re probably a hack. But if your precious little idea isn’t working, it’s probably for one of the reasons Blake mentions.

And I think Save the Cat! applies more to movies than to comics. Comics are a niche business, and relatively cheap to produce. They don’t need to generate millions of dollars each time out, so they’re a lot more conducive to rule-breaking.

But yeah, it’s scary. I’m typically the most “pulpy” writer here, and I found it pretty chilling.

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7 Responses to “Save the Cat”

  • Sean McGurr says:

    I have not read Save the Cat, but Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (of MTV’s The State) wrote Writing Movies for Fun and Profit (with Fun crossed out; web site: http://www.writingmoviesforfunandprofit.com/)

    It sounds like it hits some of the same ideas. They are very cynical about the process, but also very rich from both produced and unproduced screenplays. Worth checking out.

  • Tony Goins says:

    Did you read it? Was it any good?

  • Tom Williams says:

    I did read Save the Cat. I felt a bit dirty afterwards with all the Hollyweird snark. He lost me after referencing Miss Congeniality too much. I think my goals were different as he hated Memento which I loved.

    I did compile a beat sheet I gleened from that, which is taped to my studio wall. I got more out of Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald. It’s similar but minus the icky pitchman vibe. Haven’t finished it yet as I got sidetracked.

  • Tom Williams says:

    Reading Save the Cat made me want to rewatch Barton Fink.

  • Tony Goins says:

    Is that right? I think of your stuff as being very free-form.

  • Tom Williams says:

    Some of it is. It works for the short stories I would do, but to do more long-form stuff, like graphic novels, there has to be some sort of anchor to hold it together. It’s part of what’s blocking me mentally from starting or finishing anything.
    I feel like I’ve been stuck on the first chapter of everything but can’t move past it. I get so fixated on stuff. World building especially. SPB’s easier. It’s meant to be free-form.

  • Tony Goins says:

    That is a really good case for the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet. He talks about situations when you have a great premise and a bunch of cool scenes, but you can’t quite get them to come together as a story.


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