Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Progressive Book Club: Save the Cat

M. L. Swift is hosting this monthly book club event. To learn more about it, click here. This month we're discussing, Save The Cat! by Blake Snyder.

I wanted to get excited about this book, especially after some friends gave it such glowing recommendations. However, I approached with caution. There are so many books and movies I haven't enjoyed and yet people have raved about them. Would this be the same, a lot of streamers without the cake?

Well, I can assure you there is cake!

Blake Snyder starts by explaining why his book is not just another book on screenwriting. His approach, unlike many other books out there, is far more practical, based on knowledge gleaned from actual industry experience, rather than glossed up theory.

This personal trumpeting would normally turn me off, but Snyder's passion for what he does shines through. He cares about storytelling. In fact, he does the very thing he advocates through the entire book. He 'saves the cat' by showing me his human side, therefore making himself likeable and relatable.

"…liking the person we go on a journey with is the single most important element in drawing us into the story." Blake Snyder, Save the Cat

It seems the theory works in non-fiction as well as fiction because I immediately became more willing to listen to what Snyder had to say.

I found it interesting that he started the book with the importance of knowing what the story is about and being able to express it in one line. Many of us writers will write the book and then work out what it's about.

I recently told my new hairdresser that I was a writer. She asked what my book is about. I wasn't prepared. I stumbled and stuttered and came up with the lamest line in history. I told myself, it's okay. I haven't finished the manuscript yet. I have a few months before I need to think about pitches and querying. Wrong!! If I don't have a clear enough idea of what my book is about, then how can I expect to write it?

While Save the Cat is written in a how-to format it deals best in explaining concepts instead, which is part of a how-to, but not all of it. Occasionally I found myself asking the air, 'But how?' I 'get' the concept but I'm not a hundred percent sure how to implement it. Or perhaps I'm a little thick and missed some of the references because I was reading this for novel writing rather than screenplay writing.

It's a book with so many gems that it needs to be read many times, just as a reminder, to soak it all in, to get those ah-ha moments and hold onto them.

If you've read Save the Cat, what did you think of it? What other great books on writing have you read?

I'll be back in full swing for the A-Z challenge! Woo hoo!

74 comments:

  1. Knew you'd like it!! Maybe because it was written for screenwriting, it made more sense to me. The fifteen beats really keep a story on track.
    And thanks so much for displaying my book cover.
    Welcome back, Lynda!

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  2. Yeah, it's pretty darn good. I learned lots from reading it. It's one of my favourite books on writing.

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  3. I think it's fine to not have a scripted synopsis in your head when you are describing your book to your hairdresser, or when you are writing. Sometimes knowing and sharing the gist of your idea is enough. The gist is your seed- let it grow at its own pace.

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  4. Sounds like a good read. Good point that you need to be able to know what your book is about from the word go, otherwise you might end up with a bit of a mess.

    Jamie

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  5. I don't write scripts so this book probably isn't for me.

    I enjoyed Stephen King's 'On Writing'.

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    1. I don't write scripts either, but the theories behind the storytelling can be applied to any kind of story telling--scripts, novels, short stories.

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    2. Hi Lynda and Patsy,

      It probably uses the three act scenes. Recently we did a workshop where this was explained. Three act scenes are for plotting novels as well as screenwriting.

      Nas

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    3. Yep, three acts broken into fifteen beats

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  6. Damn I need to get a copy of this book.

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  7. I always hate the "but how?!!?" questions when I get an idea for a story! LOL!! I'm like - can't it just happen??!! LOL!! But then that's just me being lazy!

    Take care
    x

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  8. Thanks so much for this post. I'm currently outlining and have to remember to make all my POV characters likeable and entertaining. It'd help if I could read Snyder's book. I ordered it from Amazon, but that was a year ago and it never arrived. Nothing ever arrives in Egypt, and Amazon won't allow e-downloads to Africa. *sigh*
    So thanks again for your helpful and timely post! :-)

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  9. I loved STC! (Yes, is there ever cake. LOL - love that.) I did a write up on it, too. My biggest ah-ha moment, besides the overall plan of the beat sheet that helped me *get* plot, was the 'dark night o' the soul moment.' In fact, it helped me plot the ending of my current WIP.

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  10. I've heard so many great things about Save The Cat, but have not read it. I think I should probably add it to my next book order.

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  11. My favorite book to reference throughout my outlining process! It sits on my desk and has so many corner dogeared and passages highlighted that I'm not even sure how it stays together! :)

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  12. This book definitely reaches beyond just writing scripts. I worked with a revisions group and several of the authors used this is their main writing Bible, right down to applying the beats within their books. I think his "formula" is very applicable on how to write a well-paced, reader- hooking novel. If I tackle fiction again, I will definitely use this book more directly.

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  13. I've heard pros and cons about Save the Cat, but I haven't read it yet. I have two writing books on my Amazon list now. Maybe I'll add this one. I like Alexandra Sokoloff's books.

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  14. I've heard so many good things about this book. I seriously need to pick it up one of these days!!

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  15. Welcome back!

    Haven't heard of this one before, so thanks for reviewing it. Yeah, it's funny that a lot of times the theme of a story will reveal itself after it's written, but working on a trilogy I've found I do know the theme of this second book much better, and it is keeping me on track more with the writing. I'll have to check out the book.

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    1. Writing a series goes a whole lot easier when you know your theme. This book is definitely worth the read.

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  16. love the cover :) And do you have a new hairdo as well with the new hairdresser?

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  17. Hi Lynda, I was pleasantly surprised about how much I liked the book and how I could related it to my writing process. I also really enjoyed his characterizations of what he thinks are the different genres in film. It was fun to apply his exercises to my WIP.

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  18. That's a big problem for me as well. There is a lot of great advice but sometimes what is lacking is a step-by-step way to make it work. I have that book as well.

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  19. Like you, I have become skeptical when checking out craft books. However, I did like this book. It so encouraging. Getting your spiel together was a great tip. There were a few parts that didn't quite click for me but there were more pros than cons.

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  20. Thanks for the informative review:)

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  21. The idea of liking the protagonist is a reasonable one, but the book makes it feel like as long as you do that, however you do it, that's all you need. But if it's too obvious it will seem clunky.

    Doing it subtly isn't all that easy.

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    1. Yep, that's part of the 'hows' I felt was missing in the book. A lot of grand concepts were described, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty, there's some detail missing.

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  22. This sounds like a tool that needs to be added to my toolbox of writing. Thank you, Lynda!

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  23. I haven't read it yet, but ironically my crit partner loaned it to me on Monday

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  24. I've certainly heard lots about it and many people have gleaned a lot of great stuff from it. I'll have to get it to make up my own mind.

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  25. I've heard great things about this book. Need to get it! I liked your take on it.

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  26. I read it and loved it, partly because I felt it synthesized things I've read in other writing books like, A Writer's Journey, which is a book that details how a writer can use Campbell's Hero's Journey for story-writing.

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  27. I have this but haven't read it yet. I want to get to it because of all the great reviews.

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  28. Glad to see you back, Lyn. (missed you). I have heard so much about Save the Cat from Alex (Captain Ninja), I just have to buy it.

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  29. Great review. Not sure about needing to know so much about your book when you're still writing it - unless you're one of those people who have a complete outline before you start writing.

    To me, when you're writing, you're so involved with where you're at in the telling, it's hard to focus enough on the big picture to give a great pitch without first writing it down after hours of contemplative thought.

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    1. Absolutely. Everyone works differently, but for me, I've found working out the big picture early helps to keep me focused on keeping the novel tight. Of course, anything goes for first drafts. They don't count ;)

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  30. I saw the title of the book and thought it was a collab with Patt the Hatt. :P

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    1. The thought had crossed my mind, too. Sounds like a useful book, Lynda.

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    2. Ha! Funny.
      And yep, it is a helpful book, well worth the read (multiple times).

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  31. My brain just doesn't work for plotting and outlining, but I'm trying to train it. I'm thinking this book might just help me - so many people have loved it!

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    1. It's definitely helpful, especially in regards to structure.

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  32. Hi, Lynda, I'll be back to read this post more fully, but I wanted to thank your for stopping by and commenting on following my new blog, Victorian Scribbles. Glad to see you there.

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  33. Love the quote by Blake Snyder; Alex Cavanaugh's book sounds like a must read. Welcome back, Lynda!

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  34. I agree--I'll be reading it many times too!

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  35. This makes me think. It is soooo embarrassing when everyone raves a book which does absolutely nothing for you. I felt like that about the Da Vinci Code.

    Maria

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    1. I have to agree with you re the Da Vinci Code. But everyone's tastes are different and re books on writing, everyone is looking for something different depending on what they need.

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  36. I read a library copy and need to get my own because, as you said, it needs to be read more than once.

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  37. excellent review! and he does 'save the cat!' telling us about his failures to let us know its okay.

    i wonder how many hairdressers know writers!

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    1. I imagine many. Hairdressers are a lot like the classic bartenders. They'd meet people from all walks of life.

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  38. Hi, again, Lynda,
    I haven't read this book, but I enjoyed your review, and now I want to read it. I'm always on the look-out for good books on writing, and I haven't read one in awhile.

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  39. Yeah...the "how" is the tricky part!! Interesting that you applied the "save the cat" to the author's own book. ;) And yes, I need to formulate my one-liners earlier on, too. It really does help focus the book.

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  40. Thanks for the review. I need to work those one-liners myself.

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  41. That's a good reminder to writers to think about what our books are about and have a quick one-liner in case anyone asks.

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  42. Excellent review, and this book sounds like a wonderful writing guide! It's so true about writing likeable characters, even if you like to hate them!

    Julie

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  43. I've heard about this book and fully intend on reading it.

    I have a suggestion for you but it is hard to find. "Writing Fiction--a guide to narrative craft" by Janet Burroway. I found it used on Amazon, mine was not in good shape and worth every penny. Its a great read with more than a few howto's in it.

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  44. Those one-liners are essential. Thanks for the reminder. As to other books I've read on writing . . . I think Stein on Writing still stands out as very worthwhile.

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  45. I found this book extremely helpful. Save the Cat, On Writing, and Hooked are my favorite writing how-to books.

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  46. Hi Lynda, I'm inviting all my friends and followers to my luau and if you do read my novel, I hope you won't be disappointed.

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  47. i've not read this one, but have heard it raved about by such as Alex J. Good review.

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  48. For some reason the cover actually made me laugh out loud! Haha :) and I'm glad to hear there is cake. Cake is always good.

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  49. I've seen this one around a lot, but never looked it up, so when I saw it in LG's sidebar, I had to drop over and check it out. :-)

    Sounds good, but I haven't gotten through McKee's Story yet, and got two more on writing to get to as well. But you got me curious, and that tip about the likeable character is so key.

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  50. Thanks so much for the info! I've heard about this book and wondered how it was. May have to check it out. :)

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  51. i read the book and got some pretty good ideas from it.:)
    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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  52. I've also heard about this book but in such a broad sense I didn't know what it was about. Your glowing comments make me want to check it out.

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  53. Lynda...now you've got me chomping at the book, wanting to taste that cake! I've finally started it and am enjoying it immensely.

    If it didn't disappoint you, a woman I consider to have a discriminating appetite, then I'm sure I'll be pleased with the selection.

    Oh...and my barber (who was a girl that day) was also the first person I told, "I'm a writer." Yes, it followed with the same line of questions and I was a little befuddled. "Mostly articles for websites, but I have a young adult manuscript that's almost completed."

    Hairdressers are some nosy little...just cut my hair and stop with the twenty questions until I'm famous.

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    1. hehehe, the cake is mighty fine.
      And I so hear ya about the hairdressers ;)

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  54. My comment disappeared! UGH! Check your spam...that sometimes happens since I moved to WordPress. I wish Blogger and WP would get over their rivalry.

    Anyhoo...I essentially said that you make me want to dive into the cake, which I'm just now slicing into.

    Thanks for participating in the book club for March. Sorry I was going through such a difficult period—still am, but worked through some feelings that were keeping me stymied.

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    1. Nothing to do with any rivalry. I put my comments on moderation after a few days so I don't miss any comments if someone decides to leave a comment on an older post. Tricksy.

      Good to hear you've worked through some of that stymiedness. Sad to hear you're still going through difficult times. My prayers are with you and your family.

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  55. My comment disappeared! UGH! Check your spam...that sometimes happens since I moved to WordPress. I wish Blogger and WP would get over their rivalry. I'll use my Google account this time.

    Anyhoo...I essentially said that you make me want to dive into the cake, which I'm just now slicing into.

    Thanks for participating in the book club for March. Sorry I was going through such a difficult period—still am, but worked through some feelings that were keeping me stymied.

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    1. Thanks for trying so hard to get the comment through :)

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