This blog was originally published on August 21, 2008. As with so much of Blake’s writing, it still resonates today.
I am feverishly writing away my third Cat! book. It’s called Save the Cat! Strikes Back and subtitled More Trouble for Screenwriters To Get In To… And Out Of.
I am really having a ball. I’m incorporating everything I’ve learned in and out of the workshops, and via our email interactions, in the past few years. Working with writers and seeing the same problems crop up again and again allows me to see how we all make the same mistakes.
One thing that Save the Cat! is best known for, and no other screenwriting book really discusses, is “the idea.”
That may be because I have always been “the poster guy,” the writer who loves concept and to whom other writers come to see if they have anything, and if not how can they put it in their idea.
What is your pitch, your logline, your encapsulation of the brand new movie idea that you love? And how can we communicate that to the listener or reader of our pitch or logline without losing them? We see it! We’re excited! We are inspired! Why aren’t they?
In my new book I discuss the Three Things That Don’t Grab Me about your idea, because believe it or not, when I hear your pitch, the ones that don’t work fall into three very distinct types.
Among the deficiencies in an idea that doesn’t grab me is No Stakes — basically there is nothing riding on this story for your hero.
Another is Tone. If I can’t tell if your idea is a drama or a comedy, trouble! Many times I have written back to a writer saying: “Ha! Hilarious idea!” only to be told it’s a searing drama. Oops!
But believe it or not, that’s not my fault, that’s yours. If you aren’t indicating somehow what the tone of this idea is, you have fallen short.
The fix of an idea that doesn’t grab me — comedy or drama — almost always is to find the Irony of it. What gets our attention, what is the “hook,” the “sizzle” of an idea?
What’s “ironic” about Erin Brockovich is not the plot, which finds a crusader exposing the wrongs of a powerful company, but the fact that the person doing the crusading is the very last person on Earth who would be called to this duty. Irony is not only the “sizzle,” it hints at the transformation of the hero, and the size of the challenge as well.
Where’s the irony of your idea? That’s not only what gets our attention, but what hints at a story about a hero that changes. These can all be indicated in your pitch or logline, little clues that give us a clue about what’s in your fevered imagination.
And saying it, right up front, grabbing our attention and luring us in for more, is the first step in inviting me into the darkness of your air-conditioned movie theater and finding a center seat in anticipation of a great experience!