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.
Written 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.