The Guru: Blake Snyder
The Book: “Save the Cat!” and “Save the Cat Strikes Back”
The Year: 2005 and 2009
The History: Unlike most of the others on this list, Snyder actually wrote a few theatrically released movies, but the only one you’ll remember is, alas, Stop or My Mom Will Shoot! After his career petered out, he wrote a slim screenwriting book that became wildly popular. His follow-up book turned him into a full-fledged guru by laying out his version of structure, but he didn’t live see it published, dying suddenly at age 51.
Outrageous Statement that Makes You Want to Reject the Book Outright: “Existential dilemmas are what close on Saturday night, as the low-performing art house gem Memento proves. Gimmick or really dull movie? You decide.”
Areas Where It’s Less Than Helpful:
- Snyder’s first book was way too snide and arrogantly anti-intellectual. Look at that quote! How many things are wrong with that statement?? I initially skimmed the book, found quotes like that, and quit reading. It was only after the book became a phenomenon that I tried it again, and realized there was a lot of great analysis buried beneath the arrogance.
- As part of his overly-bluff tone, Snyder is far too specific about which page number each beat should happen on, causing many to dismiss his work as a “paint-by-numbers” formula.
- His central point, that bad-ass heroes like Jolie’s Lara Croft aren’t actually sympathetic, and heroes should go back to saving cats occasionally, is a good one, but he gives too few examples of varieties of “cat saving,” leaving the reader adrift.
- Thankfully (and poignantly) Snyder’s posthumous follow-up book was far more mature and humble that his first. It’s in this book that he lays out his whole structure, which is, for my money, the best of the bunch:
- One of his best no-no’s that is often-quoted today is “double mumbo-jumbo”, which says you can’t have two unrelated sources of weirdness in the same story.
- Snyder insists that every scene should reverse the change from positive to negative or vice versa. This is the same as saying that every scene should be a reversal. I mostly agree, but not entirely.
- Snyder focuses a lot on the power of opening and closing images, with the latter preferably being the opposite of the former. Directors rarely do this literally, but if you think of this as some sort of symbolic object that reverses meaning from the first scene to the last, it can be a powerful tool.
- One idea that’s in Snyder’s structure and no others is the “False victory and/or false defeat,” with one happening around page 60 and the next around page 75. Again, this isn’t always true, but once he points it out, you do start to notice it a lot.
- …and lots more. These books are really packed with good pithy little nuggets of advice, if you can make it past his initial snotty attitude. Snyder shall be missed.