Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Save the Cat

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
Save the Cat--Blake SnyderI’ve been hearing about the book Save the Cat by Blake Snyder for a long time.  Probably the last few years, actually.

It was one of those things where I kept meaning to buy it, kept hearing about it, but I didn’t have a direct buy-link to the book.  (So…if you’re like me, here you are: Save the Cat Kindle, Save the Cat Nook, Save the Cat print.)

It’s a helpful book.  I can definitely see what all the hoopla is about.  It’s written by a screenwriter for screenwriters—but the methods are applicable for novelists.

I think another reason I resisted buying this book is because I have my writing method fairly well-developed for my series.  I know how I structure a traditional mystery. 

The book does offer help for structuring a novel.  But the thing I found the most helpful was a very short section where Blake Snyder actually brought up the “save the cat” approach that the title alludes to.

Snyder said that it was incredibly important for your audience (he, naturally, means filmgoers, but it works for readers) to like or at least pull for your protagonist.  He casually mentions the importance of making your protagonist do something likeable in one of the first scenes of your film/novel.

This sounds incredibly simple (and is incredibly simple), but I’d never thought of it in such a concrete or deliberate way before.

One of my series, the Myrtle Clover mysteries, has a…well, let’s call Myrtle difficult.  She’s a difficult octogenarian sleuth.  I love Myrtle.  Many readers love Myrtle and write to me about Myrtle and ask me when the next Myrtle book is coming out.

Some readers think Myrtle should be locked in a retirement home and have the key thrown away. They don’t hesitate to let me know this in the reviews.  :)

So…you love her or you hate her.  I understand this.  There are people I know who are similar to Myrtle.

But you want readers to at least pull for your character.  You don’t want them to give up on your book.  So,  Snyder’s advice is to throw in a scene that displays the protagonist in a good light….early

So, when readers are trying to decide if they want to invest their hard-earned free time with your character for the next few days or week, we’re giving them a reason to stick with them.

Before reading this book, I’d definitely thrown in a scene or two with a softer Myrtle at some point in the mystery. But usually it wasn’t near the start of the story.

Myrtle will continue being difficult, past her Save-the-Cat scene.  But I’ll be interested in seeing if she has more converts with this approach. 

How do you soften your difficult characters?  Have you read Save the Cat?