When I decided I’d finally start getting more serious about writing, I quickly hit the “Do I have any idea what I’m doing?” wall. I haven’t written a script since college, and even then, I’m not sure I knew what I was doing
Which means before I start putting anything on paper, I’ve gotta brush up on what it is exactly that goes into screenwriting. I started reading scripts instead of novels on the subway (and still am), and I spent some time online researching which books are worth the investment for brushing up on your storytelling.
I landed on Save the Cat!, Screenplay and Story (yes, those last two are as straightforward as their titles suggest). Because the first of the bunch was hailed on its own cover as “the last book on screenwriting you’ll ever need,” I started with Save The Cat! last week and finished it over the weekend. Already, I’m seeing not only my own ideas differently, but every movie I watch seems different, too. Conversational and direct, Save the Cat! is lean in pages but bulky in content. Cheatsheets and step-by-steps and end-of-chapter exercises take all the myth out of writing a commercially viable screenplay, and even just my rough treatments are already getting refined based on the practical approaches it lays out.
But I was turned off by a good deal in this helpful little paperback, namely that author Blake Snyder (a successful writer who’s since passed away) insists on referring to his heroes as “he.” As if the idea of a woman as lead wasn’t even a possibility for this holy grail of sellable scripts. The other nagging thought was just how similar every script he was referencing really was in the end. Yes, Save the Cat! blueprints out (literally!) the 15 beats of a successful screenplay. But every movie that maps exactly to those 15 beats is arguably more boring than entertaining! Four Christmases, a popular example in the book, is not exactly what I’d consider a cinematic achievement. (Snyder would argue, however, that it sold. And what more achievement do you need than that? But I digress…)
Which is when I discovered this article that already thought all these things for me.
So while yes, I’m seeing more set-ups and thesis statements and mirror images and all these formulaic elements in films that Snyder calls out in the book; and yes, while I’m revising and revising and revising my loglines until they contain irony and place and even budget; while I do all that, I’m also seeing more predictability than ever, seeing behind the curtain on films that, until now, I probably wouldn’t have even seen a curtain at all. There’s a reason we don’t want to see how the sausage is made. Namely, so that we can keep enjoying the sausage.
Which leaves me in the odd place of being glad I read the book, useful for future writing adventures, but uncertain whether I necessarily want to use all of them in every instance. In Snyder’s own words (and reiterated in recent summer box office results)…how do you do the same thing, but different?
Next up is Syd Field’s Screenplay, which Snyder refers to multiple times in his own book as a must for learning the craft.