The book is steampunkish and I want to put in all the things you think of when you think of steampunk. The book is a mystery, too, and I want that certain unknown quality to it as well, the dark, eerie, uncertain nature that characterizes say, Sherlock Holmes stories. There are some magical elements to this story, too, so bring on the wizards. But, most of all, it’s an adventure story (I think; I hope). I see the opening two chapters as the opening moves of a giant chess board. I’ve hinted at the opening two chapters in previous Two Sentence Tuesday blogs (here and here).
To prepare myself, last night I watched the first half hour of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Just about everyone considers this movie to be great. Story-wise, structure-wise, I wanted to see how it worked. So, with pencil and paper, I watched the opening segment with a novelist’s eye.
Let’s start with the obvious: Indy doesn’t even speak a word until his entire character, save a few funny add-ons, is completely set. For the first few minutes, we only see his back. Worried local men, who know about the ‘superstitious’ stuff, don’t want to go where Indy is going. And he’s leading them, trudging ahead with single-minded determination. The first words spoken are spoken by Sapito and The Other Guy.
Sapito [who picks up a poison dart and inspects it]: Poison. Fresh. Three days. The Hivitoes are following us.Brilliant characterization of Indy: he’s going where no one wants to go, is going where others will kill him if they find him, and, yet, he still goes. That’s his character and his nature.
The Other Guy: If they knew we were here, we’d be dead already.
When The Other Guy tries to shoot Indy, we get the first taste of the bullwhip. And then Indy turns toward the camera and we see him in all of his rugged glory. As he and Sapito enter the temple, Indy’s smart enough to look for booby traps. He finds them and gets past them. When he sees his former rival, Forrestal, dead on spears, Indy only utters one word: “Forrestal.” There’s no discussion between Indy and Sapito about the history between Indy and Forrestal. It’s not needed. We viewers fill in the blanks. I think a lesser director than Spielberg would have given us some exposition. We don’t need it. And the scene is better for it.
Later, after Indy escapes the crumbling temple, we get another rival: Belloq. Again, there is no long-winded give-and-take between the two, you know, ‘to fill us viewers in.’ These rivals have been going at it for a long time. The only explanation we get is Indy’s comment that it’s “…too bad the Havitoes don’t know you the way I do Belloq.” The Frenchman’s reply is a touche: “You could warn them if only you spoke Havitoes.” Again, without huge amounts of exposition or background, we get more insight into Indy’s character. He’s good at what he does and, yet, not perfect. He has rivals. Some of them are not as smart as he is (Forrestal) and some of them skirt around the rules (Belloq). Just wonderful storytelling and character development.
Then, of course, the coda on this opening scene: the snake in the plane. After Indy’s nonchalance about the spiders in the temple, the fact that we see him come unglued because of a snake is, again, a nice rounding out of Indy’s character. And we get to laugh.
As I work on my new set of characters, I’m drawing inspiration from films and books and studying them to see how they work. I hope to incorporate some of those lessons and make my story sing.
What kind of inspiration do you use when you write something new?