Snyder Explains Screenwriting


Blake Snyder. 2005. Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting that You’ll Ever Need. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

If wanderlust has ever taken you outside your own profession to sojourn with another, you will discover new insights that will enhance both analogous to a year’s study abroad. Each profession has a slightly different focus and jargon to match. Jargon borrowed from one field and used in another can both enlighten and confuse, depending on the quality of the communication that accompanies it.[1] Crossing writing genres is no different.


Blake Snyder, in his book—Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting that You’ll Ever Need—writes:

“The real inspiration for this book started with one simple desire: I had a whole bunch of snappy rules for screenwriting and I wanted to get credit for coining them…To get to the good part, I had to explain the screenwriting process, from idea to execution, in order for anyone to understand what I was talking about.“ (120)

Over the past several years, I have read and reviewed numerous writing books, but Snyder is the first author to take the time to define the many technical terms that he uses. If you don’t believe me, look up the term, beat—an emotional story transition. Most fiction authors use the term without precise definition. Snyder outlines fifteen such transitions on his beat sheet (70).

Snyder distinguishes his book, saying:

1.    He uses the language and terms actually employed by screenwriters,

2.    He has actually sold scripts,

3.    He has taught the material presented, and

4.    He explains how the business actually works. (xii-xiii).

The title for the book comes from Snyder’s rule that the author must present his protagonist as likeable, like the policeman that climbs up the tree to rescue a cat (xv). Authors who fail to take the time end up with robotic characters that readers/viewers have trouble bonding with.

Background and Organization

Wikipedia describes Blake Snyder (1957-2009) as: “An American screenwriter, consultant, author and educator based in Los Angeles.” He studied English at Georgetown University in Washington DC.[2] He writes Save the Cat in eight chapters:

1.    What is it?

2.    Give me the same thing only different!

3.    It’s about a guy who…

4.    Let’s beat it out!

5.    Building the perfect beast

6.    The immutable laws of screenplay physics

7.    What’s wrong with this picture?

8.    Final fade in (v-vi)

These chapters are preceded by a foreword and introduction, and followed by a glossary.

Sell Me

The one point that stays with you in reading Snyder is the importance of selling a script. In the moneyed world of movies, every conversation is metered like an elevator speech. Being able to communicate the theme, audience, plot, and key characters quickly takes pride of place.

Snyder sees four elements in your pitch: a touch of irony (an intriguing hook), a compelling mental picture, an indication of audience and cost, and a killer title (6-9). A “high concept” film is easy to see and pitches itself in one sentence (the logline; 14-15).  These elements are so important that Snyder starts with the pitch before writing a line.

The Spec Writer

Snyder describes himself repeatedly as a spec writer, a term he neglects to define. My image of a spec writer is the jaded writer who follows a director around always with a typewriter within reach, like the writer in Clint Eastwood’s 1990 film: White Hunter, Black Heart.[3]

The key to being a spec writer is to being able to analyze a story quickly in terms of genre and beats. Snyder gives us ten types of story genre:

1.    Monster in the house

2.    Golden Fleece (the quest)

3.    Out of a bottle (a touch of magic)

4.    Dude with a problem

5.    Rites of passage

6.    Buddy love

7.    Whydunit

8.    The fool triumphant

9.    Institutionalized

10. Superhero (25-40)

What is interesting about this list, it is that it classifies stories by their dominant theme rather than an undefined, literary tagline. This helps the spec writer to classify stories quickly and to detach emotionally so as to be able to change up storylines as needed to strengthen the emotional content. Snyder’s fifteen beats in a story then allows him to peg the key turning points in the plot (70) where such changes might be made. Understanding this framework, the jaded writer morphs into more of an action junkie on a quest to write the ultimate screenplay in the least amount of time.


Blake Snyder’s book—Save the Cat—is perhaps the most helpful book that I have ever read on writing fiction. As I read through it, I had repeated ah-ha moments where things that I read elsewhere suddenly made sense. I also found myself memorizing Snyder’s categories and descriptions, knowing that it would be helpful to recall them as I watched movies or read novels that use such devices. If you are a writer or simply a wannabe, you will want to read this book.


[1] During my year in Germany, I heard the term ferkle, which translates as piglet, bantered about in new and interesting ways. At one point, a friend noticed my amusement at the use of ferkle in conversation and explained to me that ferkle did not simply mean a cute little pig, but one that had not yet learned to control its bowels and would defecate everywhere.

[2] Also see:


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