Save the Cat

Relentlessly self-promotional, clearly cynical, yet with some useful ideas: Blake Snyder's book Save the Cat! — The Last Book on Screenwriting That You'll Ever Need (2005) discusses how to produce a "successful" movie script. (The result may not be art, but it may have a better chance to sell to Hollywood.) Summarizing the adroit summary of the book by Phil Gyfford:

  1. What is it?
    • Describe what the movie is about in one sentence. The "logline" should present something unexpected ("The Hook"), elicit a compelling mental image, suggest the target audience and cost of the film, and provide a "killer title".
  2. Give me the same thing ... only different!
    • Identify what film genre your idea fits into; Snyder suggests 10 categories and calls them: Monster in the House; Golden Fleece; Out of the Bottle; Dude with a Problem; Rites of Passage; Buddy Love; Whydunit; The Fool Triumphant; Institutionalized; Superhero.
  3. It's about a guy who ...
    • Create a hero — someone with whom the audience can identify, and who has a compelling goal, is "demographically pleasing", and can support the plot development. Five archetypes whom Snyder suggests are: Young man on the rise, dumb, plucky; Good girl tempted, pure, crazy; Clever and resourceful child; Sex goddess; Hunk.
  4. Let's beat it out!
    • Snyder defines a 15-step template for any script's story arc: Opening Image; Theme State; Set-up; Catalyst; Debate; Break into two; B story; Fun and games; Midpoint; Bad guys close in; All is lost; Dark night of the soul; Break into three; Finale; Final image.
  5. Building the perfect beast
    • Use a storyboard with 40 index cards, one for each major scene.
  6. The immutable laws of screenplay physics
    • Save the Cat: make the hero immediately likeable
    • The Pope in the Pool: do any necessary exposition in a surprising context
    • Double Mumbo Jumbo: never have more than "one piece of magic per movie"
    • Laying Pipe: minimize set-up time before the story gets rolling with the Hook
    • Black Vet a.k.a. Too Much Marzipan: don't overdo a bright idea
    • Watch Out for that Glacier!: make danger come fast and violently
    • The Covenant of the Arc: "Every single character except the bad guys must change over the course of the movie. If the story's worth telling it must be life-changing."
    • Keep the Press Out!: build the story within the family or neighborhood; avoid media or other outsiders
  7. What's wrong with this picture?
    • Make the hero active
    • Show, don't tell
    • Strengthen the bad guy
    • Intensify and accelerate the plot as it proceeds
    • Evoke diverse emotions throughout the story
    • Let dialogue reveal each character's qualities
    • Give the characters plenty of room to change during the story
    • Be sure the characters are distinctive
    • Force goals to be primal

... though of course, to write well one must transcend — and as poet Robert Pinsky says, "There are no rules. However, principles may be discerned in actual practice ...".

(cf, How to Write (2000-11-28), Asimov on Writing (2008-02-02), Pulp Fiction Rules (2008-10-20), Rules for Writing (2010-03-07), Jacques Barzun on Writing (2016-03-19), Fifty Writing Tools (2019-12-29), ...) - ^z - 2020-01-07