Save the Cat and Keep ‘em Reading

Can you escape a dystopia in under 500 words? THE BREAK is up at Brain Harvest. Go read it and see.

That was awesome, wasn’t it? And now, today’s post.

Amy’s recent rave review of Save The Cat inspired me to get my own copy. She and other writers have praised Blake Snyder’s system of organizing a screenplay (or novel). It’s the outline for pantsers, apparently.

Well, I would love to tell you that I sat down, read the entire book, and immediately adopted the system, but the truth is that I haven’t made it past the book’s opening. Not because StC is bad, but because StC knocked my block off in the first pages, and whenever that happens with a book on writing, I stop reading and think until I’m all thunked out.

The first thing your protagonist should do is save the cat.

Or tell off a bully. Or comfort a friend. Something small but kind, something that makes the reader understand who this person is, and more importantly, something that makes the reader like and identify with the protagonist. Even if he’s an antagonist, hell, especially if he’s an antagonist.

No one is horrible all the time, everyone carries within them the spark for redemption. So maybe your antagonist robs a store- and gives some of the money to a soup kitchen. Or better yet, maybe he’s got partners in that store heist that decide to rape the girl behind the counter, and your antagonist stops them. Maybe he does it in a sneering, smarmy way, but he still stops them. In that case, saving the cat is committing the lesser evil, but it still makes you like the guy. He’s a jerk, but he’s an interesting jerk. He makes you want to keep reading.

Liiiiiightbulb!

And yes, Gru from Despicable Me is a perfect example of this- in his opening scene he teases a little kid, freezes everyone in line at Starbucks with an ice gun, takes someone else’s coffee- and tips the barista. Perfect. He’s weird, ugly, and selfish, and we already like him. Even his crime is pure wish fulfillment- I mean, who hasn’t longed to freeze everyone ahead of them in line at Starbucks with an ice gun?

So whether your hero is a goodie or a baddie, make a strong first impression. Save the cat!