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.
Posted in Writing Wednesdays
In January of 1966, when I was on the bus leaving Parris Island as a freshly-minted Marine, I looked back and thought there was at least one good thing about this departure. "No matter what happens to me for the rest of my life, no one can ever send me back to this freakin' place again."
Over forty years later, to my surprise and gratification, I'm far more closely bound to the young men of the Marine Corps and to all other dirt-eating, ground-pounding outfits than I could ever have imagined as I left Parris Island that first time. Gates of Fire is one reason. Dog-eared paperbacks of this tale of the ancient Spartans have circulated throughout platoons of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan since the first days of the invasions. E-mails come in by hundreds. Gates of Fire is on the Commandant of the Marine Corps' Reading list. It is taught at West Point and Annapolis and at the Marine Corps Basic School at Quantico; and Tides of War is on the curriculum of the Naval War College. In 2009, I launched the blog "It's the Tribes, Stupid" (which evolved into "Agora"), to help gain awareness of issues related to tribalism and the tribal mind-set in Afghanistan—with the goal of helping the Marines and soldiers on the ground better understand the different people they were facing in Afghanistan.
My father was in the Navy, and I was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1943. I graduated from Duke University in 1965. Since then, I've worked as an advertising copywriter, schoolteacher, tractor-trailer driver, bartender, oilfield roustabout and attendant in a mental hospital. I've picked fruit in Washington state, written screenplays in Tinseltown, and was homeless, living out of the back of my car with my typewriter. My struggles to earn a living as a writer (it took seventeen years to get the first paycheck) are detailed in The War of Art.
With the publication of The Legend of Bagger Vance in 1995, I became a writer of books once and for all. From there followed the historical novels Gates of Fire, Tides of War, Virtues of War, The Afghan Campaign and Killing Rommel.
My writing philosophy is a kind of warrior code—internal rather than external—in which the enemy is identified as those forms of self-sabotage that I call "Resistance" with a capital R (in The War of Art). The technique for combating these foes can be described as "turning pro."
I believe in previous lives and the Muse—and that books and music exist before they are written and that they are propelled into material being by their own imperative to be born, via the offices of those willing servants of discipline, imagination and inspiration, whom we call artists. My conception of the artist's role is a combination of reverence for the unknowable nature of "where it all comes from" and a no-nonsense, blue-collar demystification of the process by which this mystery is approached. In other words, a paradox.
There's a recurring character in my books, named Telamon, a mercenary of ancient days. Telamon doesn't say much. He rarely gets hurt or wounded. And he never seems to age. His view of the profession of arms is a lot like my conception of art and the artist:
"It is one thing to study war, and another to live the warrior's life."