What if Your Readers Hate Your Character?

November 18, 2009

I obsess a little about Blake Snyder’s “save the cat” concept, because I have a bugaboo about exciting movies and novels with tedious or creepy main characters. I tend to defenestrate such things. Books can take that, but DVDs don’t hold up well to sidewalk impact.

So I ripped the “save the cat” scenes from four movies — two Blake mentioned in his book, and two I noticed in favorite movies of mine. They are:

Aladdin (1992), written by Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio.

Sea of Love, written by Richard Price.

Heist, written and directed by David Mamet.

Raiders of the Lost Ark, written by Lawrence Kasdan.

I think I’ve beaten this topic to death now, and I promise to move on. (Thanks, Blake. We still miss you.)

I Miss Blake Snyder

August 16, 2009

Blake passed on August 4, and it’s taken me this long to settle down and gather my thoughts.

It’s been like gradually and gently working a poisoned dagger out of my kidney.

Blake Snyder
A few years ago, my dear ol’ Mom surprised me with a book about writing. I hadn’t asked for it or anything, and neither one of us knew the author. Mom had picked it up (I suspect) because it had a kitty on the cover. Mom’s a sucker for that sort of thing.

I flipped through it and realized that it was about movies, not novels.

I’m a novelist, not a screenwriter. I’ve never written a screenplay (although, since those days, I’ve read them). But I’ve noticed, at writing conferences, how often authors illustrate concepts of drama by referring to movies instead of novels.

Okay. I sat down and read Save the Cat, even though it was a “movie book” rather than a “how-to-write” book.

It blew me away — I realized that screenwriters knew a lot of things that authors didn’t. I saw that there was a science, a craft, to cinematic drama that was totally missing in written fiction. Novelists often see literature as an art to be approached viscerally, and while I have respect for this point of view, I knew that Blake Snyder and the screenwriters were on to something.

I used Blake Snyder’s “Beat Sheet” (a list of essential plot points found in any successful movie) to outline the novel I wrote for my first Nanowrimo attempt. I wrote a 77,000-word novel in 35 days and was hooked.

Blake Snyder, genius.

I would have met Blake at the Write on the Sound conference this October. I had dreams of interviewing him for this blog. Now, the staff and volunteers there are scrambling for a new keynote speaker, and the rest of us are just deeply, profoundly bummed.

Earlier this year, Blake created a Youtube profile and started to upload some wisdom. I’ll let him finish this post for me.

“Save the cat” scene in “Hang ‘Em High”

April 11, 2009

“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

Blake Snyder is a screenwriter, not a novelist. But it turns out that screenwriters have learned a lot more about what makes a good movie — that lots of people want to see — than novelists have learned about what makes a good novel.

Hang Em High

The science of screenwriting is more advanced than the science of novel writing. We novelists have some catching up to do.

(If you’re planning to write a novel that no one wants to read, go ahead, suffer for your art. Meanwhile, Blake Snyder is keynoting Write on the Sound this year, a Northwest convention of primarily novelists.)

Blake coined the term save the cat scene. It’s easy, it’s quick, and connects the reader to your character, so the reader is willing to go along for the ride. “It’s the scene where we meet the hero and the hero does something — like saving a cat — that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him.”

Here’s a no-nonsense example I found. It’s in the first few seconds of the 1968 Clint Eastwood movie Hang ’em High (screenplay by Leonard Freeman and Mel Goldberg). In the movie, Clint (big shock) hunts down and blows away the dudes who wronged him. It’s a revenge movie — not an easy sell, unless we see some reason to believe that his character, Jed Cooper, is actually a good guy underneath it all, worth rooting for.

Here is that scene —