Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sharpen your tools (or claws)

I heard good buzz about Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need. I write novels, but a lot can be learned about compelling storytelling from movies. So I ordered Snyder’s book from my county library share system and found I’d ordered the follow-up book by accident.
SAVE THE CAT! Goes to the Movies is packed with insights useful to any writer. Snyder identifies story types and gives examples of movies that fit these structures: Monster in the House, Golden Fleece, Out of the Bottle, Dude with a Problem, Rites of Passage, Buddy Love, Whydunit, Fool Triumphant, Institutionalized and Superhero.
Some of the films he gives as examples will make you nod your head and murmur, “Of course.” Others may surprise you.
I think the message here is not so much there are only a certain number of plotlines that exist in the world, but that a story needs a rock-solid structure first and then can vary the rest of the details. Otherwise, writers run the risk of being wishy-washy, not able to pinpoint in their pitch and, later, to readers what their story really is about.





If you have trouble identifying into which of the categories your story fits, Snyder lists elements that should be there. For instance, under Rites of Passage, it is the hero who must change, not the world around him.





Under Monster in the House, there must be a “sin,” some transgression that let the monster in. Buddy Love requires an incomplete hero who needs another to be whole.
There are lots of valuable tips. But I think I’ll leave you with a game. See if you can figure out what common links there are in the example movies that Snyder gives for each story type. (You can find the answers by reading the book. I’m so mean. Although if some of you try to guess in the comment section, I’ll tell you if you solved it, because I’m not all that mean.)


Monster in the House: Alien; Fatal Attraction; Scream; The Ring; Saw.

Golden Fleece: The Bad News Bears; Planes, Trains and Automobiles; Saving Private Ryan; Ocean’s Eleven; Maria Full of Grace.


Out of the Bottle: Freaky Friday; Cocoon; The Nutty Professor; What Women Want; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.




Dude With a Problem: Three Days of the Condor; Die Hard; Sleeping With the Enemy; Deep Impact; Open Water.


Rites of Passage: 10; Kramer vs. Kramer; Ordinary People; 28 Days; Napoleon Dynamite.


Buddy Love: The Black Stallion; Lethal Weapon; When Harry Met Sally; Titanic; Brokeback Mountain.


Whydunit: All the President’s Men; Blade Runner; Fargo; Mystic River; Brick.


Fool Triumphant: Being There, Tootsie; Forrest Gump; Legally Blond; The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Institutionalized: M*A*S*H; Do the Right Thing; Office Space: Training Day; Crash.

Superhero: Raging Bull; The Lion King; The Matrix; Gladiator; Spider-Man 2.

26 comments:

Domey Malasarn said...

I read the first Save the Cat book a couple of years ago, and it ruined my movie-going experience for a long time. I hated the book as a result, even though it is a very useful book! I didn't know this follow up existed. Now I have to think about whether or not I want it to ruin my experiences again.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Whoa, Domey! That's interesting. I presume you mean that the book made you more critical of plot points as you watched, thereby taking you out of the pure entertainment value. I get that, because that happens to me more with books now. I notice things that could be better and am taken out of story for a brief moment (or a long one if it's really bad!)

Domey Malasarn said...

Every movie became predictable after I read the book. The good thing is that I have a bad memory, so now I can watch again. :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Domey: !!! There's a lesson in that--although we need solid structure, the stories mustn't be clones. My thinking cap gets more complicated all the time.

Wen Baragrey said...

I love Blake Snyder's books, and others on screenwriting like Alexandra Sokoloff's advice. She's awesome. I have to admit, like Domey, I find myself deconstructing movies (and books) all the time now. It hasn't ruined the experience for me, though, thank goodness (although I can see how it could!). I think it's actually enhanced it and made it easier to figure out just how to plot properly.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Wen: I should've known you'd have dived in these waters. I, too, like the help this is giving me in plotting. I've already got some good ideas for improving my fairy tale. *taking notes*

cleemckenzie said...

I think predictability in the movie plot is why special effects have become so popular. They serve as a distraction from the ho hum story.

Loved your post.

The Golden Eagle said...

I've never read any of the Save the Cat books, but I've heard of them before--I need to check them out. :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Lee: Thanks! That's the trick, isn't it? To make tried-and-true story lines fresh.

Eagle: I was fascinated by a lot of his examples. I don't ever treat how-to books as rules that must be followed but as ideas to consider. I got some good ones out of this.

Donna said...

I've never read Blake Snyder, but I learn a lot from movies so maybe I'll pick up Save the Cat. My favorite screenwriting book so far is Dara Marks' Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc. Her charts are helpful as I work on my novel. I keeping checking in to make sure I have the character, relationship, plot and theme arcs intact.

storyqueen said...

I kind of want to read a book called Dude With a Problem now.

Seriously.

Fool Triumphant doesn't sound that bad, either.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Donna: That sounds like another interesting book. Although it also sounds like you're juggling a lot of arcs!

Shelley: I know, I love the Dude with a Problem! :D

Bish Denham said...

I read the first Save the Cat. I learned a lot while being entertained. Now I'll have to read the second.

And I've got a little something for you at my blog Tricia.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Interesting! So many great movies on that list. I'll have to check it out.

MG Higgins said...

I started out in script writing, which is one reason why my novel-writing descriptions are so lacking. (Why do I have to describe a scene the camera will be showing? You mean the reader can't see inside my head?!) Plot is so important! I can't hear this enough times.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Bish: Cool, maybe I'll try to get my hands on the first one, too. And I'll be over to visit later, thanks. ;)

Karen: I love seeing how he deconstructs them and shows the similarities in structure. It's fascinating.

Mel: I didn't know you started in scriptwriting! I took a course at UCLA but gave up in the face of the odds.
Absolutely about plot. If it's weak or confusing, the story falls on its face. Even in character-driven stories there needs to be a strong plot to draw in most readers.

Jemi Fraser said...

When we watch movies at home, I'm not allowed to speculate out loud - I've read so many books, I can often 'guess' the ending. It drives them nuts :)

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Jemi: Hahahahaha! I can see how that would drive them nuts. Many times Hollywood endings are too easy to predict, and sometimes they take us by surprise. It's the sometimes I'm hoping to achieve. :)

Donna said...

Hi again. I was chortling over Jemi's comment. I'm not allowed to talk during movies either. I'm always happy to find an unpredictable ending.

Suzanne Casamento said...

Great reviews! But I'm lost on the game. I'm not familiar with all those works!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Donna: I'm a big shusher to people talking during movies, I'm afraid. I don't even like to eat or listen to others munching. Let me lose myself in the story is what I'm after, I guess.

Suzanne: In the book, he deconstructs them by plot point. It's fantastic to see the inner workings.

LynNerd said...

I've heard so many writers recommend Save the Cat, but I still haven't read it. I hadn't heard about the followup. They both sound good. I don't have a clue as to what those books have in common! Yes, you're a big bad meanie! Haha!

Jennifer Shirk said...

I've heard really good things about Blake Synder's books too, but haven't read them yet.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Lynn & Jennifer: They're worth checking out. The references are movies, not books, but the plotting is what you really can see. Thanks for stopping by!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I have Save the Cat, but was wondering if this one was any good for novelists. Oddly, my library system has this book, but not the original one. I had to buy it and hope it was as good as everyone claimed. It was. :D

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Stina: I've yet to read the first one, but I liked the way the movie plots were so clearly defined for me in this second one. I could see how plot points fall. Very useful.