If you’re lucky, at least once in your life you meet a teacher who explains things in way that no one else could … and you finally “get it”. Blake Snyder was that teacher for me.
Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! books and Beat Sheet Workshops on story structure transformed my writing career. He helped hundreds of other writers–screenwriters and novelists alike. Yes, hundreds. The truth is you can have the most eloquent writing style on the planet, but without a compelling story you won’t engage readers.
Blake Snyder passed away on August 4, 2009, but his spirit lives on in the stories Save The Cat! continues to influence.
Why Save The Cat?
I rewrote my first novel three times, and still didn’t get the story right. Worse, I didn’t have a clue how to fix it. A little internet intervention changed all that.
Amazon recommended “Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need” based on past books I’d ordered about (real) cats. I’d never read a book on screenwriting, but since Save the Cat! was the last book I’d ever need, I thought, “Why not?”
Save the Cat! is the term Blake uses to describe the scene–usually early in a story–where the hero does something nice that makes us sympathize with him/her…like saving a cat.
Guidelines for story structure are a lot like the principles of music theory you’d follow to compose a song or symphony. Certain patterns are intrinsically more pleasant, they resonate deeper and are more satisfying.
Save The Cat! explains the basic story types, then breaks each story into the 15 beats (plot points) that will make it satisfying. Following these story sign posts allows me more creative license when it comes to the actual writing. Who knew?
The Transformation Machine
Blake often talked about The Transformation Machine in relation to the hero’s character arc. Every satisfying story is about change, and the Transformation Machine forces the hero to do just that. On the hero’s journey, two stories are told: the external/physical and the internal/emotional. As Blake Snyder put it…
All stories are about transformation. And seeing this as a good thing is the starting point of writing a successful story of any kind. Something has to happen, change has got to occur. That’s why the opening image (the snapshot of the world BEFORE) of a movie script has to be the opposite of the final image (the snapshot of the world AFTER.)
You can hear the Blake himself talk about the Transformation Machine in the following video clip:
Blake – the Pigeon – in “Bolt”
Blake Snyder and Jose Silerio worked as a team, consulting on a number of Hollywood A-List movies. BOLT, the feature animation by Walt Disney Pictures, was one of those films. The following scene is a testament to their contribution. Blake, the screenwriting pigeon, and his writing partner pitch their movie idea. When I saw BOLT in the theater, I almost jumped out of my seat and yelled, “I know Blake!” Simply priceless!