A catch up post from July
From Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder
Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody
I received Save the Cat! Writes a Novel for Christmas the year it came out. I was really excited, because I had heard a lot about Blake Snyder’s book and I wanted to see one that catered to novels rather than screenplays.
With those expectations, I was a bit disappointed.
However, that doesn’t mean that Save the Cat! Writes a Novel is not good. It is an excellent craft book. It just wasn’t the craft book I was expecting.
There are really two different premises to these books. Blake Snyder wants to take us through the screenwriting process from idea to getting the scenes down on the page. In that, he starts us off with making sure you have a really strong premise to the story you want to tell. Then you can add structure to that premise, make sure you have your scenes lined up, and away you go!
Then he gets to the part I came for. The part that’s from the title of the book. This is where he describes specialized scenes and rules for storytelling that are quick short cuts to show what you need and tricks to get past boring but necessary sections of your novel/screenplay.
In contrast, Jessica Brody takes the beat sheet provided in Snyder’s book, and expands upon it for novels (as well as talking about premise and such, but the main thrust of the novel is this beat sheet.) She then goes on to describe, in detail, the beats of at least one novel in each of the ten genres described by Snyder.
So there in lies my misunderstanding.
Snyder’s “Save the Cat!” scenes, of course! While there’s only actually two scenes (the rest are more “do” and “do not” rules) all of them have memorable names and all of them translate well between screenplay and novel. I know that I will be using the title scene and “Pope in the Pool” a lot in my writing.
Snyder also goes in depth into what make a story (screenplay) tick before we even get to those specialized scenes. In going over every aspect of the logline, we are brought, step by step, into improving our original “Aha!” idea until it becomes an excellent novel (screenplay).
As for Jessica Brody, she expands the talk of Snyder’s beat sheet, going carefully over every step, and going so far as to expand certain sections so that they fit better into a novel rather than the screenplay format. And when I say she goes in depth, I mean in depth. Pages 22-78 are just about the beat sheet, explaining what happens at each beat and giving options for each. Pages 86-263 are examining each of the ten genres and going over a beat sheet for one example of each. Illustrated in the picture above, I have marked a LOT in this book.
Not so much bad, as expected. When you pick up a screenwriting craft book as opposed to a novel writing craft book, you should expect it to be geared toward screenwriting and not novels. Surprise, surprise, Snyder’s book does just that. So much so that at times it gives us novel writers advice that doesn’t really apply. But that’s such a small portion of this book. Really, we could replace “screenplay” with “novel” and get on very well with this book.
Just in comparison, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel is not as well organized, for me at least. A lot of the “save the cat” type scenes and suggestions are buried in text about the beat that they are relevant to. As such, it’s hard to see where our own manuscripts might be having problems and find the easy way to fix the issue.
As much as I hate to say it, there are some ugly bits to Snyder. The last chapter is all about marketing, just for screenplays, and just for confident screenwriters at that. Then he gives screenplay selling techniques that even he admits are outdated. The book was published in 2005. If you are looking for a book on the business of selling a screenplay, this book is not for you.
It’s more subtle in Save the Cat! Writes a Novel, but there are times when I can tell that Brody might not have read the novels that she was writing about. She got a few subtle facts wrong. But it doesn’t detract from the overall strength of this book.
Despite the fact that they are not “the last book on screenwriting/novel writing I will ever need”. I will be keeping this book. (Both of them. When I actually buy Save the Cat!, as opposed to checking it out from the library…)