Earlier today, I reposted a vintage interview with the late Blake Snyder and I hope you’ve had the chance to take a look at it. Blake was a storytelling guru who captured many a groundbreaking thought in his book Save the Cat! That book has gone on to become a valuable tool within the film industry, and has recently been adapted for use by novelists thanks to author Jessica Brody (Save the Cat! Writes a Novel). I’m a devotee of Save the Cat! and Blake Snyder, and so it was a no-brainer for me to accept when asked to review a new cat-centric online course and two sets of story cards. Without further amew…
Save the Cat! The Course
I watched most of this online course over three days, but it’s designed to be consumed at whatever pace feels best for you. The course–a blend of video segments presented by filmmaker Jennifer Zhang, downloadable worksheets, and homework assignments– is different from the book in that it concentrates two ideas foundational to Blake’s teachings: genres and story beats.
Genres. Nearly every story, Blake says, falls into one of 10 story genres. These genres are neither what you may be familiar with nor are they what you may guess they are at a glance: Monster in the House, Golden Fleece, Out of the Bottle, Dude with a Problem, Rites of Passage, Buddy Love, Whydunit, Fool Triumphant, Institutionalized and Superhero. (A Beautiful Mind is a Superhero film. Surprise!) Knowing the genre of your story allows you to identify stories built like your own and study how certain beats were approached, excavated, and resolved for best effect in a variety of films. This is of course different than reading in a chosen field and studying those books in order to write a better fantasy, romance, women’s fiction novel, mystery, psychological suspense, horror, etc. And it can be illuminating to step away from “the box” of traditional genre labels to absorb other ideas. Blake’s dissection of story into unique groupings is conceptually brilliant and can make for–at the very least–an empowering exercise when applied to your own work.
Beats. While Blake didn’t invent the idea of story beats, he evolved it after seeing the lack of a reliable guide to the connective tissue needed between act breaks. Using the same analytical skills used to recognize the DNA of story types, he identified 15 critical story beats, then went about explaining, testing, and proving them through a plethora of examples. (The Save the Cat blog continues to introduce new films to explore and prove the strength of the approach.)
I enjoyed the class and the chance to dust off my memory of Blake’s concepts and apply them to my current projects. I thought the worksheets were useful, and printed a few of them out for future reference. I can see, too, how people who’ve never been exposed to Blake’s ideas might benefit from this CliffsNotes-like course or use it as a complement to the Save the Cat! book. Personally, I wouldn’t use the course as a replacement for the book–there is deep gold in Save the Cat! and you’ll develop a more fulsome sense of Blake’s ideas and Blake himself through the pages–but the course is (a) a good guided introduction of core elements, (b) can be a good tool for re-immersion if you’re familiar with Blake’s ideas but it’s been a minute, and (c) will likely get your wheels turning on a work-in-progress and thinking about that story in a new and likely productive way regardless.