Sunday, November 10, 2019

Writing Tips: Indiana Jones and Your Action Story

Recently, I finished watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  While I loved Raiders of the Lost Ark and will re-watch that movie at the drop of a hat, I was turned off to the series by the overly dark and snake-filled tone of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I missed out.  I should have watched this movie years ago.  Last Crusade was a pretty good movie.  As a writer of genre fiction, I also found it to be interesting to observe as a work of pulp fiction.

Holy Grail Replica from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - Photo by Graph+sas [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

As a movie, it is heavily influenced by classic pulp fiction.  Like a work of pulp fiction trying to keep readers turning pages, the movie employs a wide variety of devices to keep eyes glued to the screen.

When there is a lull in the action, it's time for action!  


I read somewhere (probably in How to Write Pulp Fiction by James Scott Bell) that an age old piece of wisdom for pulp writers was that when you couldn't figure out what to do next in your story have someone enter the room with a gun.  In The Last Crusade, lulls in the action don't last long  The movie moves from action sequence to action sequence very quickly.

When characters are in jeopardy add more jeopardy!


 If you look at a fistfight in The Last Crusade, it's never quite over.  The bad guys keep coming back for more.  It's not enough to just have a fistfight.  In this movie, they have fistfights on a moving tank.



The tank isn't just moving, it's trying to scrape Indiana Jones off on the side of a cliff or it's heading towards the edge of a cliff and a fall into oblivion.  There hero has to worry about the fight, falling onto the tank tread, getting scraped off of the tank, or going off the edge of the tank.  But, that's not all, his father is a hostage on the tank. 


Escapes are never easy!


It's not enough to simply escape.  Escapes are layered with more and more jeopardy.  At one point in the movie, Indiana Jones and his father (played by Sean Connery) are tied up in chairs back to back.  At any point, the guards will be back to kill them or beat and torture them.  That's not easy, but more and more jeopardy is added to the scenario.

Add comic elements!


 They find a lighter.  His father lights it in order to burn a hole in the thick ropes that bind them.  But, the clumsy old man drops the light and lights the carpet on fire.  He doesn't want to tell Indy so he tries to blow out the flames.

Add surprise elements!


At another point in the movie, a bad guy is just about to shoot Indiana Jones.  He fires, but surprisingly he shoots Indiana Jones' father instead.  Now, Indy has to try and save his father.  The act surprises the audience, makes them gasp because they care about Indy's father, and it sets up a race against time in order to save the elder Jones.  The surprise adds yet another layer of jeopardy.


If you look at any of the Indiana Jones movies, you'll see jeopardy and more jeopardy heaped onto the characters, escapes have complication after complication, there are lots of surprises, and everything moves fast against a ticking clock.

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