Saturday, October 23, 2010

Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder

Click to buy the book!

An idea persists about art that its creation, in any form it possesses, is somehow spontaneous and entirely right-brained; that it is emotional and not rational, free-flowing and uninhibited, not planned and not restrained or dammed or controlled.

Art, simply, is pure. (Or it would be more often, if in order to be considered "successful" by anyone outside the artist's community it didn't need to be made commercially viable.) But the belief among many that "purity" necessarily contains all those above descriptions contributes to some extent, I think, to the common conception that artists don't have to "work." Of course, the time needed to accomplish much art is recognized; artists, however, fail to obtain similar recognition of their time, efforts, and value. Many never understand that while the creativity of art may be spontaneous, the craft of it almost never is.

The need for planning, for working and reworking, for drafting and amending and cutting and altering, is as prevalent in the written arts any other. Which is why Save the Cat is as relevant to fiction writing as it is to screenwriting, and why it's fast becoming a bedside and writing-table standard for me.

We (and I'm as guilty as anyone) like to believe, love to feel, that quality films and books fulfill the standard of excellence just by being inherently good. We don't want to realize that behind the quality lies a structure, and that the structure applies to all sorts of works within and outside of the genre.

But it's there. Good artists can bend the structure, play with it (and, more importantly, within it), but we can hardly get rid of it. Rather than lamenting this fact of storytelling, I've chosen to embrace it, to study it, and to apply it to my own work. And so far, the results are telling.

(Fair warning, though: it's also made me an annoyingly critical movie viewer. In the middle of a film, I'll burst out with "Ooh, there's the whiff of death!" or "But he didn't save the cat!" I don't see how you could read this book and not do the same. Consider yourself cautioned.)

1 comment:

  1. I really agree with the concept that "good" art is planned well. I think the same goes for teaching, sports, and . . . parenthood?