Frank Underwood Saves the Humane Society

If you haven’t read Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, you should – right now. It’s a reference written primarily for screen writers but the guidelines also work for other writers. In a nut shell, the premise is that within the first few minutes of a movie (or pages of a book) the hero needs to do something significant to make us align with and like him.

The hero saves the cat or he calls home or he brings flowers to mom or he get up so that an older woman can sit down – you get the idea, he has to do something that humanizes him and that immediately puts us in his court. We like him because he took the time to do something we would consider doing.

In movies (and TV) this is particularly important. Take a look at this trailer for House of Cards season 1 (where it was paramount that we immediately like the main character.) Frank Underwood is a sly fox, he’s part of political Washington. We shouldn’t trust a word he says, BUT because once we see that he is addressing *us* directly in the very beginning of the show (literally minutes), we realize that we’re being treated as a confidant. He’s letting us in on the joke.

We trust one of the most devious characters in recent TV history, because he saved the cat – in a big way. He addressed us directly and now we feel like we are part of a secret club. As devious as Frank behaves, we know that he will always be honest with us.

That inauguration scene knocks House of Cards out of the ball park. Frank Underwood, not only saved the cat, but he personally bankrolled the entire Humane Society.

We love him. We’re on team Frank.

Go back to some of the movies you’ve loved over the years. Watch only the first few minutes and see if you can figure out where the cat is saved.

And then, try to translate that action into your writing. No matter what your work is (with the exception of non-fiction how-to) you’ll need to humanize your hero. If it’s a romance, we need to see that the hero may be clumsy but he’s got a soft heart. If you’ve got a memoir, establish up front how people can connect to you, use an example of a time when you stumbled and by the end of the story, correct that stumble to show people how you’ve grown. Same rules apply to any fiction (YA, Romance, mystery, etc) give us a reason to care about your hero and then give us a reason to put ourselves in his shoes. Make us like your character.

Saving the cat is one of those little tools that is so subtle, you may not even catch it the first time you see it, but if you learn to recognize the technique, then like buying a new car, pretty soon, you’ll start seeing that exact model all over the place.

Once seen, trust me, you won’t be able to unsee it.

Feel free to share any “Save the Cat” moments from favorite movies or books in the comments.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

14 thoughts on “Frank Underwood Saves the Humane Society

  1. I know I must be hallucinating but I find that practically every scene in Big Hero 6 which includes Baymax is saving the cat moments, including the one where almost deflated he rest on the stairs landing stroking the cat on his lap saying: “Hairy baby… Hairy baby.” In my twisted brain I remembered it as: “Hairy thing… Hairy ball.” Don’t ask me where I get that because I don’t know.
    I already said I have a deranged mind, haven’t I?

  2. I am getting ready to binge watch House of Cards (my husband is all caught up) in preparation for the 2/27 season 3 premier, so your post is timely for me.

    Fondly,
    Elizabeth

  3. I find this a very timely post as I have just received some feedback on my unpublished novel telling me that my main female character is not very likeable. I’d better make her save a cat! Thanks for the great advice!

  4. I love that you are using HOUSE OF CARDS as your “save the cat” example. It is such a great way to help us think about creating a character we are rooting for, even when they aren’t the traditional hero. Also, that complicated is good. PS, can’t wait till this weekend and season 3!

  5. This is such great advice I got the same words of wisdom when I went to school and while I was an intern. I try to remember it since it was hammered into me And that House of Cards reference is genius! Thanks for bringing back the hammer.

  6. Whoa. Firstly, I love Save the Cat! It’s an indispensable tool for writers, and not just for making the protagonist likable. So you had me at that Save the Cat reference. Secondly, I love House of Cards, and I could not for the life of me figure out what his “save the cat” moment would be. Yes, he’s the protagonist, but as a lying snake and a dirty player, he is not likable in the least! So you really brought it home for me with this one. Yeah, talking directly to us, the audience of his shenanigans, really is his “save the cat” moment. The ONLY time this is less than true is when he is trying to convince us he isn’t upset in the slightest when Zoe attempts to break things off during S1. His words versus his actions and facial expressions don’t match up in the least. But I think that’s because talking to “us” is actually a way of showing him talking to himself. And Frank Underwood does not, for the most part, EVER engage in such frippery as self-deceit. That would be beneath him. Except for that one time… lol!

  7. Pingback: Weekend Edition – Truth in Blogging Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips | Live to Write – Write to Live

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