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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Blake Snyder’s Fun and Games

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

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.


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The Warrior Ethos

The Spartans do not ask how many are the enemy,
but where are they.
—Plutarch, Sayings of the Spartans

The Warrior Ethos was written for our men and women in uniform, but its utility, I hope, will not be limited to the sphere of literal armed conflict. We all fight wars--in our work, within our families, and abroad in the wider world. Each of us struggles every day to define and defend our sense of purpose and integrity, to justify our existence on the planet and to understand, if only within our own hearts, who we are and what we believe in.

We are all warriors. Do we fight by a code? If so, what is it? What is the Warrior Ethos? How do we (and how can we) use it and be true to it in our internal and external lives?

From the Introduction by Steven Pressfield.

[The following is from chapter 12 of The Warrior Ethos:]

12. HOW THE SPARTANS BECAME THE SPARTANS

All warrior cultures start with a great man.

In ancient Sparta, that man was Lycurgus. He took the city from a normal society to a warrior culture.

So that no man would have grounds to feel superior to another, Lycurgus divided the country into 9000 equal plots of land. To each family he gave one plot. Further, he decreed that the men no longer be called "citizens," but "peers" or "equals."

So that no man might compete with another or put on airs over wealth, Lycurgus outlawed money. A coin sufficient to purchase a loaf of bread was made of iron, the size of a man's head and weighing over thirty pounds. So ridiculous was such coinage that men no longer coveted wealth but pursued virtue instead.

Lycurgus outlawed all occupations except warrior. He decreed that no name could be inscribed on a tombstone except that of a woman who died in childbirth or a man killed on the battlefield. A Spartan entered the army at eighteen and remained in service till he was sixty; he regarded all other occupations as unfitting for a man.

Once a Spartan was visiting Athens. His Athenian host threw a banquet in his honor. Wishing to show off for his guest, the Athenian indicated several illustrious personages around the table. "That man there is the greatest sculptor in Greece," he declared, "and that gentleman yonder is its finest architect." The Spartan indicated a servant from his own entourage. "Yes," he said, "and that man there makes a very tasty bowl of soup."

The Athenians, of course, were outstanding warriors in their own right. The great playwright Aeschylus, composing his own epitaph, mentioned nothing of his ninety plays or of any other civilian accomplishment.

Here lies Aeschylus the Athenian. Of his courage at the battle of Marathon, the long- haired Persian could speak much.

Lycurgus decreed that no man under thirty could eat dinner at home with his family. Instead, he instituted "common messes" of fourteen or fifteen men who were part of the same platoon or military unit. Above the threshold of each mess was a sign that said:

Out this door, nothing.

The point of the common mess was to bind the men together as friends. "Even horses and dogs who are fed together," observed Xenophon, "form bonds and become attached to one another."

The payoff came, of course, on the battlefield.

Here's how Spartans got married. Lycurgus wanted to encourage passion, because he felt that a child—a boy— conceived in heat would make a better warrior. So a young Spartan husband could not live with his bride (he spent all day training and slept in the common mess). If the young couple were to consummate their love, the husband had to sneak away from his messmates, then slip back before his absence was discovered.

It was not uncommon for a young husband to be married for four or five years and never see his bride in daylight, except during public events and religious festivals.

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