Thursday, June 26, 2008

Viewer/Reader Satisfaction: The Story Arc

Last night I finally got to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

I. Loved. It. Several times during the movie I said "YES!" to myself (under my breath). I walked out grinning like an eedjut.

But being an aspiring storyteller myself, I couldn't let it go at just enjoying it. I had to analyze WHY. Why was the film so satisfying? I've been an Indiana Jones fan since the beginning (well, except for #2--but did anyone like #2? Really? The monkey brains and all?), but it wasn't that simple. This one had to be Really Good, to succeed. And it was. It left me with a feeling of completion, that satisfied sigh of closing the last book in a good series.


Because George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg know how to do a story arc.

(warning: SPOILERS)

If you look at the whole series (which I intend to, once this comes out on video), this fourth movie picks up themes and bits that were touched on throughout (friendship and betrayal, fathers and sons, the folly of greed, love) but it is most closely tied to the first one.

Most obviously there's the reappearance of Marian, Indy's love interest in #1. I hoped hoped hoped it was her when they mentioned a "Mary" in the beginning, and I was thrilled when it was. Indy's never had a connection with any other woman--on screen--like Marian (and he says so). Tie-in to problem set up in first movie, resolution. Bing! Viewer satisfaction.

There was the reappearance of the warehouse from the end of #1, and the tantalizing glimpse of the Ark (ha). There was the reference to Indy's famous not-swordfight ("don't bring a knife to a gunfight") and a parallel with the Russians seeking world domination here, through an artifact, just like the Nazis did in #1. The ending also mirrored the theme of that original movie: too much knowledge, the greed for knowledge, is a dangerous thing. In #1 Indy and Marion survived because they kept their eyes closed. Here the Russian woman was destroyed because she kept her eyes open. At one point she tried to shut them, but couldn't. Reference to first movie, resolution. Bing!

There was the tie up and passing on of the baton, from father to son. In #3 we saw Indy's relationship with his father, and here we see him relating to his son. There is a clear implication at the end that the story is not over, really, but will pass to the next generation (when Mutt almost tries on Indy's hat). Bing!

(Oh, and I love the reference with Mutt's name. Anyone else remember "Indiana was the dog"?

Okay, so I think you get the point that the Indy movie was satisfying. But how does this relate to your book, or series, as an author? How do you get readers to feel that same satisfaction?

  • Play on their inside knowledge. Readers will feel knowledgeable, and special, when you throw in little references to things they've seen throughout your book or series. If it's a series, readers who haven't read the whole series may not get those references--but your devoted readers will. And will feel a kinship to the story and to you when they get them.

  • The final chapter of a series, or even just a book, should tie in to the first chapter. Yes, your character's been through a heck of a lot, and hopefully they're not at all the same person. But for that emotional satisfaction there needs to be a tie-in, a resolution, to the first problem. That gives readers an "aha" moment, and a feeling that the story is complete.

  • If you're doing a series, and you've covered a lot of themes, the primary theme resolution in the final book should be the same or similar theme as the first book. Emotional satisfaction.

  • Bring up long-lost characters. Resolve long-forgotten threads. Show the reader that it was important to pay attention all the way through your book or series, and reward them for it. Use a detail you planted in Book 1 or the first chapter and never used.

  • Watch the Indiana Jones series. And take notes.


MM said...

I too loved the Indian Jones movie. When I was a young girl I decorated my room with a Harrison Ford motif. I think I freaked my father out when I told him, I needed a man with a doctorate and a whip.

I loved the story telling in Indian Jones. Karen Allen and Harrison Ford have such great chemistry.

Diana Peterfreund said...

Interesting. I agree with all of your points, and I noticed them in the movie, but I still did not like Crystal Skull. I'm a huge fan of the IJ series (except for #2), and I love #1 the best, so I was so please to see all that resonance you mentioned. Unfortunately, the movie as a whole seemed too much FX porn (the bugs and chase scenes straight out of Peter Jackson's horrible King Kong), and dumbed down (the puzzle-less plot -- the puzzle of the Arc and the staff is the best thing about the first movie) -- it just seemed really paint by numbers and disappointing to me. So much pot was set up and then just ignored, like Indy staring at the skull, it appeared to be the easiest thing to find the city of gold (whereas it actually was quite difficult to find hte arc and makes sense no one had ever done it before), and just the sheer ridiculousness of most of the stunts. When you spend most of your time wondering how they keep surviving and having enough energy for the next RIDICULOUS action sequence... it didn't feel like a real indy film to me.

Susan Adrian said...

Diana: Hmmm. That IS interesting. None of it was disappointing to me...I was along for the ride, just enjoying the action bits, etc. I didn't like the bug part, but that was really it. Glad you commented, though! I love to see how different people interpret things.

Did you see WALL-E? *curious*