Friday, April 27, 2012

Save the Cat

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been collecting books on writing since the day you decided you wanted to be a writer. You’ve drooled over Writer’s Digests Book Club, you’ve scoured the writing section in the library, and you’ve spent countless dollars on books written to help you defeat writer’s block, craft the perfect plot and develop a character everyone wants to have as a best friend.

And these books are great. I have a ton. But only a handful have the honor of being on my desk, within arms reach, 24-7. Joining the Making the Perfect Pitch (Sands), No More Rejections (Orr) and Real Revisions (Messner) is a little gem called Save the Cat: The Last Screenwriting Book You’ll Ever Need.

When Marcus Sakey, NYT Best-selling author and host of the new Travel Channel series Hidden City, (don’t you love name droppers?) reviewed my manuscript at a conference a few years ago, he said my synopsis lacked structure and suggested I read this book. I have to admit, I was cynical. How could a book on screenwriting be the cornerstone of my writing library? I am so glad I listened to him.

In Save the Cat, Blake Synder introduces a 15 “scene” plot development concept that has not only made writing a synopsis easier, it’s also makes plotting a new novel idea much less frustrating. According to Snyder, there are 15 key moments in a movie and everything else is linking these moments together. He even goes so far as to determine on what page of a script the action should take place. (I took the liberty of applying basic mathematic skills to figure out about when they should occur in a 300 page book. I’m going back to do the calculations for a 400 page novel, as the current WIP is going to be a bit longer.)

What I found out is regardless of whether you’re writing a screenplay or a novel, you have an obligation to keep the reader interested in your plot. There are tons of books out there that have amazingly rich characters but the writer puts too much faith in the characters carrying the story without giving the same attention to developing the plot. As a reading writer, I feel let down by books that held so much promise but failed to deliver. I don’t want to be that writer, ever. I have faith that, with a rich imagination and Save the Cat, I can avoid at least that one complaint from the critics.

What are your go-to books for writing?

Whatever motivates and shapes your work, BE PASSIONATE about your characters and your plot!


  1. I love Save the Cat! Also Save the Cat Strikes Back! And there's this handy spreadsheet for those calculations... :)

    1. Susan, Thanks so much for this link! It's great! And the best part: I don't have to figure it all out myself! I'll be ordering Save the Cat Strikes Back next week! (Just got Real Revisions by Kate Messner in today... have to pace myself!

  2. I just picked up Second Sight by Cheryl Klein. So far so good. I also loved as a general reference; Stephen King's book On Writing. Mostly I just need a time turner (Harry Potter style) so I can have time to read them all.

  3. I completely agree about the time turner!!! Stephen King's book is a classic. I listened to the audio version and it was like having my own personal guru! I'll have to look into Second Sight.