Writing Wednesday: Saving the Cat, Anticlimaxes and How I Met Your Mother

When the penultimate season of How I Met Your Mother aired last May, I blogged about how monumental a task the writers would have in order to make us fall in love with the woman Ted will marry. After watching the opening of the final season Monday night, I think the writers did some things completely right and other things completely wrong (or at least, sort of wrong).

SPOILER ALERT! If you DVR’d the show but haven’t watched it yet, you may want to hold off on reading this blog post.

What they got right:

There’s a book on screenwriting called Save the Cat by Blake Snyder that many writers use to help them structure their plots. One of the points Snyder makes is that the author must make us fall in love with the hero/heroine early on. One of the best ways to do that, claims Snyder, is to give the hero a scene in which he saves a cat. This doesn’t have to be a literal cat that the hero saves. Rather, the hero simply has to do something good for another human being so that we see him as a empathetic character.

By the way, this is how authors sometimes get us to like guys who are sort of “bad guys.” As long as they show empathy for another human being, we don’t care if they’re not perfect. We just have to know that our hero is a good guy deep down.

The screenwriters for How I Met Your Mother got this right because the first real interaction we see between her and another cast member involves her saving Lily from a bad situation. Lily’s just ditched Ted on the way Barney and Robin’s wedding. She’s upset because her husband and baby are still in Minnesota, and her mother-in-law keeps sending annoying pictures of the baby in order to get Lily and Marshall to not move to Italy. The Mother comes to the rescue when she meets Lily on the train, overhears her muttering to herself, and offers her a homemade cookie and a sympathetic ear. Cat saved!

What they may have gotten wrong:

I’m not an expert on plot structure for romantic comedies, but a number of my friends write romances, so I have a little idea of what is expected in terms of how the characters are introduced. While I can’t remember the exact number, I know there’s a belief out there that the hero and heroine should meet within the first X number of pages. Again, I don’t remember the exact number, but it’s fairly early on. The reader shouldn’t be kept guessing who the hero and heroine are.

On this count, the screenwriters of HIMYM got this wrong right from the start. Perhaps, this is why so many people out there still think he should end up with Robin. Or at least, Victoria, who was introduced during season 1.

That being said, you can break the rules now and then. I still believe they can make us fall in love with the Mother.

Another thing they may have gotten right:

They threw in a flash-forward scene in which the Mother and Ted are back at the hotel (a.k.a. the scene of the wedding where they met), and the two of them are very happy together. Seeing Ted so happy with the Mother would make most fans of the show like the Mother. After all, if Ted loves her so much, and we want Ted to be happy, then this woman must be all right after all.

Then again . . .

In this flash-forward scene, we see Ted and the Mother kiss. Oh. Anticlimax. Usually, in a romance, we work our way up to the big kiss. Anybody else remember how Victoria made Ted close his eyes before they kissed, and then she disappeared? Why did she disappear? Because the anticipation of the kiss can often be the best part of it!

So I think we may have seen the first kiss between the two of them too soon. There’s no build-up to it. Their first kiss has just become an anticlimax!

Despite all that, I’m still looking forward to seeing how they tie everything up in this last season.

Did you see the season opener? What did you think of it?

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One Response to Writing Wednesday: Saving the Cat, Anticlimaxes and How I Met Your Mother

  1. Ginny Marie says:

    I just watched it last night, so I can finally read your post! I agree with you about the first kiss, but I think I’m going to like her. As I was watching the scene with Lily, I was thinking the exact same thing. Now the Mother already has a bond with one of Ted’s best friends. Ed and I were wondering, though, if the whole season was going to be at that hotel! (We hope not!)

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