How To Show Likeable Characteristics in Unlikeable People

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Save The Cat

Have you ever read a book you didn’t like because you didn’t like the main character? Maybe she was too self-absorbed, or maybe he was a thief–he didn’t have any endearing qualities, so you put the book down and never finished the story because you didn’t care about the the mc. This has happened to me, but I wasn’t able to understand why I didn’t want to finish the book. Until now. Now I know why.

It’s because the writer needed to have a SAVE THE CAT scene. Have you heard of this term? I hadn’t until I met Torry Martin, comedian, screenwriter and actor, at the Montrose Christian Writer’s Conference.

SAVE THE CAT is when the writer gives a not-so-nice character an endearing quality that makes readers like him or her. I’ve heard writers say this, “I want to show that my character changes and isn’t the same person by the end of the book, so she has to start out in the beginning as an unlikeable person.” This may be the case when the book is character-driven and we want readers to see her character arc, but if the readers don’t like the protagonist they will put the book down and never finish.

Somewhere in the early chapters, that character needs to do something sacrificial that makes us like a part of her. We need to see that she has some redeeming quality. We want to see the glimpse of hope that she might change for the better.

Here are examples of how this works in movies:

(For some reason the EMBED movie doesn’t always work here.)

Blake Snyder, a Hollywood screenwriter initially “named” this plot tactic and discusses it at great length in his bestselling book,  Save The Cat.


His website is HERE Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 10.35.03 AM


In his 20-year career as a screenwriter and producer, Blake Snyder sold dozens of scripts, including co-writing Blank Check, which became a hit for Disney, and Nuclear Family for Steven Spielberg — both million-dollar sales. Named “one of Hollywood’s most successful spec screenwriters,” Blake sold his most recent screenplay in 2009.

His book, Save the Cat!®The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, was published in May, 2005, and is now in its eighteenth printing. It prompted “standing room only” appearances by Blake in New York, London, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Vancouver, Toronto, Barcelona, and Beijing — along with numerous sold-out workshops in Los Angeles, where he was also a STAR Speaker at Screenwriting Expos 6 & 7.

Apparently it is not quite the last book on screenwriting you’ll ever need, as the eagerly awaited sequel, Save the Cat!® Goes to the Movies: The Screenwriter’s Guide to Every Story Ever Told, was published in October, 2007 — shooting to #1 in the Screenwriting, Screenplay, and Movies History and Criticism categories on Blake’s third book, Save the Cat!® Strikes Back: More Trouble for Screenwriters to Get Into… And Out Of, was published in November, 2009.

Blake’s method has become the “secret weapon” of many development executives, managers, and producers for its precise, easy, and honest appraisal of what it takes to write and develop stories that resonate. Save the Cat!®The Last Story Structure Software You’ll Ever Need has codified this method in an easy to use CD-Rom.

Blake taught at Chapman, UCLA, Vanderbilt, and the Beijing Film Academy. His book is the basis of screenwriting classes at many major universities in the U.S. and Canada.

Blake was a member of the Writers Guild of America, west.

Blake passed away suddenly on August 4, 2009, but he lives on in his films and his books, in the advice that will never grow old, with the spirit that will continue to thrive and inspire. His story resonates with all who loved him, and your stories will resonate thanks to his love for you.

How to Train Your Dragon (DreamWorks, 2010) was dedicated to Blake.

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  1. Showing a redeeming quality is something Susan Warren reminds us to do, too. It’s just plain wisdom I want to include and need to be reminded lots. Thanks. Sorry he passed away.

    • Hi Delores – I had never heard of the term SAVE THE CAT, but I understood what they meant because Susie had taught it in her classes. We’ve learned so much from her, haven’t we?
      Hope you have a great weekend. We’re having awesome weather here for August. I think it got down in the 40’s last night. That’s crazy!

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