The Problem With Screenwriting

So, there are two conflicting articles/blog posts regarding Save The Cat!  The Slate.com article lambasting the Save The Cat! screenwriting guide  and  the Bitter Script Reader’s blog post saying that Save The Cat did NOT destroy movies.

Now, the Bitter Script Reader makes the point that there has always been a formula in story telling ever since stories were being told.  This is true.  There is a rhythm in stories.  The three acts (beginning, middle, and end) started getting broken down to five (introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, conclusion) and then that started becoming more faceted.

However, when you look at those categories, they are just a guide for the flow.  You would not have the hero save the day before they discovered the day needed to be saved.  Though writers/directors/producers (I am not sure who makes these decisions,) will sometimes drop a scene in the opening that is all chaos to get the heart beating faster… and then they switch to “three days earlier” or something and backtrack to get to the point of chaos they opened with.  Presumably because starting from the actual beginning is just boring and would not grab the audience.  (Never mind that those watching probably are fans and would endure a boring opening, or that if the beginning was boring, they need to figure out, as writers, how to make the beginning more interesting to begin with.  But I digress.)

The complaint with the Save The Cat! formula isn’t that they have a map, it is that the map was presented with examples.  And it is those examples that get repeated over and over and over. (And over and over and… well, you get the idea.)  The young, male hero, the side plot romance with the femme fatale or more the helpless female needing a man to save her (or not so helpless but still in need of a man to save her because she gets into a bind the hero must pull her ass out of.)  Invariably, if they do get bold and switch it up to make the hero female, the men around her are total idiots, just as the women around the male hero are airheads.

Movie stories have turned into essentially the same story, throwing in token people of under-represented race, color, religion or sexual orientation to shut the people who complain about everything being all ‘white young dude’ who ‘discovers yet fights his destiny’ and ends up insta-learning everything he needs to ‘save the girl’ and ‘slay the proverbial dragon.’  With the obligatory not really killing the dragon for sequel-ability if it is sci-fi or general action.

What is killing movies is not Save The Cat!  It is studios not getting writers who understand what the ‘beats’ of the formula mean beyond the example presented and copy-catting everything that makes a bajillion dollars.  They are risk-adverse, unwilling to take a chance themselves, and even when they snatch up something from an independent artist that did not follow the formula exactly, they force it back into the tired formula.

About LexyWolfe

I am a writer of fantasy and occasionally science fiction.
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