By Steven Pressfield | Published: July 29, 2015
Have you heard of Blake Snyder? He was a screenwriter and writer of several terrific books about screenwriting (tragically he died in 2009 at fifty-one) including Save The Cat! (23 printings so far) and Save the Cat Goes To The Movies. Highly recommended.
Blake Snyder was famous for his “beat sheet.” This was his original, funny, idiosyncratic (and very insightful) way of breaking down a story into its constituent elements. There are fifteen beats in the Blake Snyder beat sheet, starting with “Opening Image” and continuing through “Set-up,” “Catalyst,” “B Story,” “Bad Guys Close In,” “Dark Night of the Soul,” etc.
Number Eight is “Fun and Games.”
Here [writes Blake] we forget plot and enjoy “set pieces” and “trailer moments” and revel in the “promise of the premise.”
The Fun and Games part of the story, according to Blake Snyder, begins around the start of Act Two in a movie (for books, say simply “the middle”) and can continue most of the way to Act Three.
What exactly are Fun and Games?
They’re what we go to a specific movie (or read a specific book) for.
We go to a Terminator movie to see Arnold Schwarzenegger destroy things. We go to a Hitchcock flick for the scares and the Icy Blonde in Jeopardy scenes. We read Philip Roth for upscale Jewish angst (and sex) and we pick up Malcolm Gladwell for quirky but profound insights into common but often-overlooked phenomena.
The Fun and Games of a historical romance are the bodice-ripping love scenes. The Fun and Games of a musical are the songs. The Fun and Games of a French restaurant are the gorgeous veggies, the meats and fish roasted with pounds of butter, and the impeccable complementary wines.
A case could be made that the plot of any novel or drama or epic saga, back as far as Beowulf and the Iliad, is nothing grander than a vehicle to deliver the Fun and Games.
And that the writer’s first job, before the application of any and all literary pretensions, is simply to make the Fun and Games work.
Consider Begin Again, the Keira Knightley-Mark Ruffalo-Adam Levine movie I was talking about in a post a couple of weeks ago. Begin Again is (more or less) a musical. The Fun and Games are the songs. Writer-director John Carney had, I don’t know, eight or ten tunes that he had to weave into the story. I’d be very surprised if he didn’t sit down with a notebook and ask himself:
1. How am I going to work each of these songs into the film?
2. Which characters sing them? And why?
3. How can I make each song serve and advance the story?
4. How can I make each song serve the story differently from every other?
5. In what order do I put the songs?
In other words, John Carney began with the Fun and Games. His task was to make them work in the story.
I gotta say, he did a tremendous job. For one song he had Keira Knightley, sitting alone at night in a New York apartment, open her laptop and watch a private video of herself singing for Adam Levine (her boyfriend in the movie) a song she had just written, asking him if he liked it, if he thought it was a good song. Tone of scene: wistful, romantic. Message: she loves him.
In another scene, Carney had Adam Levine play back a song for Keira on his iPhone (a song he had just written during a week out of town.) Twist: Keira realizes as she’s listening to the song that Adam wrote it for another girl. Upshot: she slaps his face and bolts.
What made the task of integrating these Fun and Games particularly daunting for John Carney was that only one or two of the songs had lyrics that referred overtly to what was happening in the moment in the story. They weren’t like “Willkommen” or “What I Did For Love.” They were just generic love songs, like you’d find on any album.
Why am I bringing all this up? I’m flashing back to last week’s post, Learning the Craft. In that post I suggested that it would be a tremendously helpful exercise for all of us to ask ourselves, “What is our craft? What are our strengths as writers? What is unique to us stylistically, thematically, dramatically?”
Same for Fun and Games.
What are our Fun and Games? Even if we’re as-yet unpublished. Even if we’ve only written one story, or just part of a story. What would a reader pick up our book for? What boring parts would she page through to get to the “good parts?”
What are our “good parts?”
The reason I suggest his exercise is because most of us have no idea what our Fun and Games are. I didn’t for years.
If someone were plunking down money to buy a book by you, what would they be buying it to get? What scenes or moments would they want to see? A certain kind of love scene? A trademark type of action or suspense? Are they licking their chops to read your brilliant excursus on American foreign policy? Are they seeking your insights on the evolution of women’s political consciousness in the 1970s?
It’s tremendously helpful to know the answers, to know what our Fun and Games are, because:
1. They tell us what our strengths are.
2. They identify what’s fun for us, what types of scenes we gravitate to.
3. They provide insight into what themes preoccupy us. (Our Fun and Games will instinctively support our themes, consciously or unconsciously.)
4. They help us answer the question, “Why do we write?”
5. They give us insight into who we are, long-term, in the sense of our evolving journey as artists and as human beings.
6. And they help us understand what issues are preoccupying us now, today, in this immediate moment of our lives.
What are your “trailer moments?” What are your “set-pieces?”
What are your Fun and Games?
[P.S. Check out Blake Snyder. Well worth reading.]