Save the Cat! is a little book on screenwriting that became popular so quickly, it diverted author Blake Snyder’s career from writing scripts to teaching. People who attended Blake’s workshops, or who simply read his books, were mesmerized by the way he could analyze and explain story structure. The simplicity of his approach and his ability to decode structure were amazing, and I’m not a person who’s easily amazed.
Blake never tried to turn writers or their scripts into formulaic replicas. Still, he was forced many times to repeat his assertion that learning how to use structure, which he referred to as the backbone of a story, wouldn’t prevent writers from being experimental or literary or wildly creative. He taught writers essential elements with a very broad range of applications. Screenwriters and novelists who study his methods come away with at least a few handy strategies. It’s certainly worth knowing which techniques actually work with audiences and readers before deciding not to use them.
Blake was a wonderful guy, widely respected, always candid about his shortcomings, and intensely devoted to what he had finally discovered was his professional calling. At the peak of his second career, he died suddenly at a ridiculously young age, devastating his family, friends, and everyone who had expected him to be around to give great advice for decades to come. His third book, Save the Cat! Strikes Back, was published posthumously last year.
Copies of Blake’s three screenwriting books were (in the interest of full disclosure) given to me by his business associates, because I wrote a piece about him for Writer’s Digest Books. I’m not a creative writer. I studied literature from the reader’s, scholar’s, and critic’s points of view. Blake’s books helped me understand the creative writing process from the film industry’s perspective.
It’s summer, with tons of fun to be had, and it’s easy for writers to get discouraged and rebellious and sick of learning. Writer’s block is an evergreen excuse for giving up and going to the pool to throw in the towel. But if you’re one of those never-say-die types, and you want to turn things around, take a cue from Blake Snyder. He once objected to learning what it took for his screenplays to be commercially viable. In Save the Cat! Strikes Back, he says, “I’d been a bullhead—it’s true! I was much more interested in doing it my way than succeeding.” Changing his mind made all the difference.
If success seems elusive, don’t be reluctant to learn something new. It takes humility to accept that you’re not unique and that other people have something to teach you. As long as you’re learning, you’ve got a chance.