Tag: “Save the Cat”

Save the Cat

 

Blake Snyder’s classic advice to “Save the Cat” came forcibly to mind this week.  I was reading a best seller where the protagonist not only didn’t save the cat, he aimed a kick at it.  At this point my dh put down the book and refused to read further.

I carried on reading. The novel is a book club assignment so even if I don’t like it, I have to read it to justify my opinion.  In this case, I came to empathize with the hero—he had a hard life and in the end he did rescue the cat—but I did not identify with him.  In other words, the story was entertaining and well-told, but it kept me at a distance.

For some types of novel, that distance is not an issue, but for romance novels, we want the reader to enter into the story, to put herself in the heroine’s shoes and feel every heartbeat with her.  Having a heroine who even contemplated kicking a cat could eliminate a large readership.

This little vignette was a good reminder to me to choose story words and actions carefully. What may seem like good characterization to an author– being mean to a stray cat—may offend readers so deeply that they cease to be  readers.  Snyder’s example was intended to help authors write empathetic and complex characters. In real life, no one is all good or all bad.  Unless they are comic book caricatures, even villains will have at least one redeeming feature.  They care for their mothers, or they send money to an orphanage, or they rescue a stray kitten.

I had an object lesson on this topic in my WIP. I used the term “idiot.”  A beta reader found the word harsh, denoting anger and insulting to both the heroine, who says it, and the hero, to whom it is applied.  Such was not my intention.  I had used the term the way Georgette Heyer used it, almost as a term of endearment.  She also uses “stupid,” and “wretch” in the same way, playfully and with no intent to hurt.  Clearly, I’m not as skilled as Ms Heyer in portraying the meaning of the word in this way.

I could argue with my reader, or I could put in a long explanation of how the word “idiot” is intended in this context, but none of that would be helpful. If the word offended one person, it might offend others.  Why would I want to annoy readers when I could avoid the issue by re-writing the sentence?  I’m not suggesting that writers should water down their prose to be as bland as a blanc-mange but I do recommend paying attention to possible misinterpretations.

English is a living language and words change their meanings and connotations over time. For example, hussy comes from the word housewife and used to refer to the mistress of a household, an honourable position, the exact opposite to the disreputable woman it refers to today. When writing historicals it is wise to keep an etymology dictionary handy.  I find this one on-line useful.

So, now I’m going through my WIP on the hunt for unintended red flags. My heroines can still be strong, decisive, and, occasionally cranky and plain-spoken, but they must remain likeable.

So, thanks to Blake Snyder and the unsympathetic hero for warning me away from “idiot” unless I really mean it.

How about you?  Are there words or actions that cause you to close a book and write the author off your TBR list?  Are there themes that are auto-buy for you? I’d love to read your comments.

 

Pet Reunions

One of the more heart-warming stories arising from the Fort McMurray fire is the reunion of pets and owners.  Many people fleeing the fire had to leave behind beloved animals.  Either there was no room — it’s hard to put a horse in the back of your car — or there was no time.  Some fled with only the clothes on their backs.   If you’ve ever loved an animal, you’ll know how heart-rending it must have been to leave one behind.

The good news is that first responders, fire-fighters and police have been doing their best to care for abandoned pets, and now 600 have been rescued and sent to a reclamation centre in Edmonton.   For families who’ve lost their homes, their belongings and their livelihoods, the joy of reclaiming a lost pet has to be enormous.

Given that our society is so attached to our furry and feathered friends, it’s hardly surprising that animals show up in romance novels.  Goodreads even has a list of recommended romances featuring dogs.   Just like your own four-legged friend, pets in stories allow characters to show empathy, to share secrets, to reveal their soft side when the world think they’re nothing but tough.   Renowned screenwriter/teacher Blake Snyder even wrote a manual for writers called Save the Cat.  His point being that even the most unlikable character can be redeemed by one good deed — saving a lost cat.

I’ve had pets all my life, yet, until recently, I didn’t use animals as major elements in my stories.  Hard to explain, since I write with a cat on my knee, sleep with one on the bed, and plan my holidays around cat-sitters.  However, a recent wip features a heroine  who works in a dog rescue centre.  Dogs feature big-time in this story.  And yes, they do reveal character, they do allow a crusty hero to fall in love, they do provide moments of humour.  Can’t think why I haven’t written them into my stories before.

As I cuddle my own furry friends I say thank you to the heroes of Fort McMurray who rescued, fed, transported and snuggled frightened, lost animals.  My heart aches for those still wondering what became of an abandoned pet and I can’t get enough of the reunion stories.  Talk about a “feel good” moment.

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