Better Call Snyder
I have been watching the fantastic spin-off from Breaking Bad, “Better Call Saul” and enjoying it immensely. I have to say that Saul or “Jimmy” as we have now come to know him, was one of my favourite BB characters and the new series seems effortless in its own right, away from it’s magnificent parent.
Anyway, a recent episode “Bingo” (#7) got me thinking about Cats. Cats in relation to Blake Snyder.
Now, I know not everyone is a fan of “Save the Cat,” Snyder’s book on the art of screenplay writing. For me, it was one of the first I read, and I found it to be a very valuable introduction to the art of screenwriting. Like any screenwriting textbook it reflects the opinions of its author and their views on the business so it has to be read in that way. It is not a magic brush with which to forge your career, but it is also not the waste of time that many decry it to be. If you want to, read it, absorb it and move on – like any text, use it to inform your writing and take from it only that which will help you. Add it to your arsenal of writing “Tools” – just don’t look at it as a set of hard and fast “Rules.”
As we keep saying:
Tools, not Rules!
I may well come back to talking more about some of the books I have read in later posts, but I think we need to get back to Saul/Jimmy.
If you haven’t seen episode #7 and are planning to, you may want to avoid the rest of this post. I’m not going to give away an major plot turns, but it may well still spoil your enjoyment if you know what is coming. Go log on to Netflix and come back when you’ve seen the episode.
Okay…. last warning….
HERE BE SPOILERS
“Save the Cat,” the titular rule outlined in the eponymous book, is a simple one. Snyder discusses giving your character something to do to endear the audience to her, metaphorically saving a cat from a tree, that will show them to be the hero we all want them to be and generate empathy with them.
In episode #7, struggling lawyer Jimmy is fighting to make a name for himself and has been angling to win a case for the Kettlemans who have been embezzling funds. He lost the case once already to his law firm Nemesis, but things start looking up for him when they “fire” the existing lawyer and come back to Jimmy for his help. He knows they are guilty, and has already taken a small bribe from them to keep quiet – a bribe he is planning to use to set himself up in a swanky new office (he’s still no Angel).
He is on the verge of making the big time, forgetting his troubled past and starting a bright new future.
But his friend, Kim, who works for the Nemesis lawyers, is the one who suffers when the Kettlemans jump ship. She loses her office and her chances of becoming a partner in a major law firm have just been put back by several years.
What does Jimmy do? He throws away all his dreams, breaks several laws and makes sure Kim gets the case, and her future, back and secured.
The episode ends with Jimmy in a reflective mood in the office that he now can’t afford (and probably never will) as he breaks down, first by angrily taking his frustrations out on the office door and, finally, by sinking to the floor in tears.
If you didn’t love him already, you’re now in it for the long haul with Jimmy and definitely on his side.
Admittedly Jimmy/Saul was already onto a good thing after Breaking Bad; he was already a great character. But the writers, whether consciously or not, have given him his “Save the Cat” moment. They have endeared us to a lovable rogue who we now want to see succeed more than ever, even if we know things don’t all go according to plan in the future – which makes us root for him even more.
Like any set of screenwriting rules, Save the Cat has its flaws and could even be dangerous if adhered to religiously. However, understanding the tools set out in any paradigm means you are well equipped to use them to your advantage and make them work best for you. This example shows how saving a cat can be a great tool for character development if you use it carefully – please don’t literally have every hero saving a cat!
Do you give your characters a “save the cat” moment?
Do you think this is a good way to generate empathy with characters?
Feel free to comment below!