Monday, 15 August 2011

Save the Cat!

I'm currently reading Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder.  It's written by an unashamed mainstream screenwriter and his shining examples are films like Miss Congeniality and Legally Blonde.  He looks for the Save the Cat! moment in every film.  This is somewhere near the start where our hero does something that immediately puts us, the audience, on his side.  

I think novels need a Save the Cat moment too before we can relate to characters.  Of course, it doesn't have to be as dramatic as saving some old moggy; in fact, it's better when it's small scale, a hardly noticeable act of consideration for others, a tiny kindness, a gesture of love.  

I rooted for the main character in Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson from the first couple of pages when he was polite and considerate to a near-stranger despite having just had some terrible news. I couldn't be bothered to finish The Shakespeare Secret by J L Carrell because I never liked the main character.  She never had a Save the Cat! moment - although she had plenty of 'I'm vastly superior to everyone around me' moments.

Several readers/reviewers have commented on Kissing Mr Wrong's Save the Cat! moment, when the main character is shown as being concerned for her gran.  It was entirely unconscious, but I'm now busily working out how the main character of my current WIP can have her Save the Cat moment. 

Has anyone any other suggestions for Save the Cat! moments in either their own work or other novels?


Mama J said...
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Mama J said...

I can't think of any.

I'm worried now... Still, it's something to think about.

Eryl said...

Great tip, thanks. I have just (today) begun to read my first draft and have a vague recollection of a save the cat! moment somewhere in there. Hopefully it's early enough in the story, if not I suppose I'll have a bit of work to do there.

Penelope Overton said...

Funnily enough I've been having the very same thought - my main character's inciting incident isn't objectively sympathetic (she walks out on her family). She has reasons, of course, pyschological, emotional, economic etc, but she needs some Save the Cat! It might be something as easy as giving a few quid to the homeless person, I don't think it needs to be an elaborate plot point.

BTW, this is such a brilliant book - I use it all the time.

Penny said...

I recognise this - and it's a very useful tool I think, especially if you have a tricky character you'd like to haul over to the Good Side by the end, but just at the moment they're acting up a bit and causing some conflict.

I think one of the best examples recently was from 'February' by Lisa Moore. The narrative moves forwards and backwards in time, so skilfully the thread isn't lost... but at first you do wonder what kind of main character you're being made to follow. She's reeling from all kinds of trauma and it seems she might just sink... then you get a flashback glimpse of her fighting off some bullies [among some waves - the sea is another variable character!] when her children are threatened, and phew you just know she might make it. I really wondered if I'd like it to start with, but it's a truly great read and by the end I loved it.

Sarah Duncan said...

I think the trick is that it can be something really small, just so long as it puts us on their side. In fact, it's better if it's small.

I haven't come across February - I'll have to look it up, as characters who start out with lots of negative baggage are v tricky to pull off successfully.