Monday, August 1, 2011

Meet Me at the Movies: Plotting with Indiana Jones

Welcome to the Movies!!!!

Put on your brown Fedora, pick up your whip, don your best sarcasm, and watch out for snakes, because we’re going to look at Plotting Tips from Indiana Jones.

Not your typical movie for plot points, but I like being unique - and I'm a big Indie-fan. I particularly want to focus on movies 1 and 3 (the other two weren’t all that great IMO) – but Indie’s premiere movie and especially The Last Crusade have some great plotpoints to teach.

So why do we like Indiana Jones? (besides the obvious ;-) or at least, why do we find Indiana memorable?

I think there are lots of reasons: Indy is a strong character. He has a sense of humor, is confident, an expert in something, and he’s quick to risk himself to save others – he’s also vulnerable and flawed. Which make this ‘larger than life’ character more believable. But another reason why I LOVE the Indiana Jones movies is because of the plot - (the action, adventure, suspense, and world travel ;-)

Let's start from the beginning - How do we meet him? In the opening scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, our whip wielding hero is walking through a jungle in search of a cave with a golden idol, a historical artifact. There is a feeling of danger. Uncertainty. Forboding.

 Within the first 10 minutes of the movie, Indy is nearly shot with a pistol, jabbed with a poisonous dart, dropped into a deep cavern, flattened by a rock wall, and squashed by a giant boulder. He’s had to use his expertise in archeology to get through booby traps, save treacherous guide’s life twice, outwit his nemesis, while sporting his sense of humor. Whew...what a beginning!

Most stories don’t start off with this much action – except maybe Mary Connealy, Brandilyn Collins or Steven James’ stories. Many novels begin with proposing a sense of uncertainty to the reader - whether it is by peril, attraction, or change.

But action alone doesn’t make a great story. Or perhaps I should rephrase this statement-
meaningful action makes a great story (and action can take both external and internal forms)

Most people will say that fabulous characters drive a plot line. Yes – that’s true. Fabulous characters are the heartbeat to a good story, but plot is the pathways by which the characters give life to the story.

In fact, I like to refer to plot as the character of the story.

Is your plot an aggressive character? Furious? Serious? Funny? Suspenseful?
Does it grow and expand like any good character should?

So how do we string meaningful action together to make a lingering plot?

1.       Begin with a BANG. HOOK the reader.
Indie movies have no trouble offering a beginning ‘hook’. All stories need to be 'caught' by the story from the very beginning. Sherrinda had a great post on this recently that you can read here. I also wrote one a while back that you can read here.

2.       Don’t just keep the reader on his/her toes, but give the characters a purpose that drives the story.

A plot is usually built around a bigger story. In Indiana Jones, the overarching problem is that Adolph Hitler wants to rule the world and one of the ways in which he’s seeking world domination is through the collection of religious artifacts. His hunt is the catalyst that initiates Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It's true for most stories. There is an overarching event driving the plotline.
In Ruth Logan Herne's newest novel, Small Town Hearts, the overarching external goal was establish a candy store - but this goal drove the plotline throughout the story.

The reason I like Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade more than any other Indie movie is because (along with the hooks, cliffhangers, plot turns and such) there is a deeper character development. A deeper story of healing between Indie and his father, as well as a deeper growth inside Indiana. It's almost like a discovery of what true 'worth' really is.

3.       Enhance your characters through a perfectly placed plot

Plots usually bring out a characters past wounds for them to battle or reconcile. For Indie, it’s either his past with Marion or his hurt with his father.

Plots initially ask questions that we answer throughout the story. First questions: Who is this guy?

 What’s he doing? Why is he doing it?

Then the questions become more complex – how will he solve this external goal? The internal one?

A good plot keeps the viewer/reader constantly asking new questions.

How will he get out of this? Will Marion and Indie survive, let alone be together? How will he save his father’s life? Who is the traitor? What will Indy choose, the grail or his life?

As long as the questions keep popping in the reader/viewer’s brain – they’ll stay engaged in the story.

Plots stretch our characters into someone new and better.

Good plots put your characters in places that challenge who they are, what they believe, and maybe even their physical stamina. There are lots of life-threatening situations that take place in Indiana Jones movies such as gunfights, fistfights, boat fights, car fights, burning Scottish castles…you know, the regular stuff ;-) But even if you don’t use such action-packed situations in your novel, you can still place your characters in plot situations that stretch them.
When our characters are challenged, we watch them grow.

Plotpoints to remember:

1.       Frame your scenes (or chapters) with hooks. Catch your reader with a hook at the beginning and then leave them wanting more at the end. (I love trying to do this for EVERY chapter. So much fun)

2.       Shove your characters out of their nice, predictable lives into a new adventure, discovery, opportunity, or trial. (in the Last Crusade it’s when Indie finds out his father has ‘disappeared’ and he’s forced to make a decision to rescue him)

3.       Build the conflict as the story grows. The best stories have both internal and external conflict building at the same time and meet at the climax of the novel. In the Last Crusade, it’s when Indy’s father is shot and Indie must test himself and his faith to save him.

4.       Embrace the unexpected – unexpected turns in the story increase interest and tension. Most authors will tell you to send your characters in places they would never choose to go – or to make choices they would never make on their own.

5.      Character is built through trial - Your plotline has to place your characters in situations where their personalities go deeper than the superficial. Remember, most times we’re only shooting for a happy ENDING – the rest of the story needs to stretch those characters to their limits and beyond. The most memorable characters were forced into change and self-reflection due to circumstances.

And for fun - I found a great blog post called The Indiana Jones Guild to Achieving Your Goals.
And you can purchase your very own Indiana Jones hat at or

Share a part of your plots in your WIP to let us know how you’re doing one of the above things in your story
I just finished reading Mary Connealy’s newest book, Out of Control, and it sets the stage for some wild action (both internally and externally). What is one of your favorite page turners?
Popcorn, a soda of your choice, plus a fruit salad are out. Enjoy the show! J

pictures courtesy of


Christy LaShea said...

Great details on plot, Pepper! I like what you said about the plot also being the character. Very true. I think I must write dark plots. I always tackle such serious issues. I don't mean to, this is what I have ideas about. I'm searching for ways to liven the plot up, even though the single idea may be dark, getting to the end will be exciting.
Thanks for your outline on IJ Films. I love just about anything George Lucas produces ;)

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Mmmm...Indiana Jones. I love him! I think he plays such gritty, heroic, yet vulnerable characters. The vulnerability is what gets me everytime.

I also thought your statement on plot being a character was a good one. Interesting, isn't it, to bring to life a story through an intricate and exciting plot?

Great post! Ahem...mine will NOT be that long tomorrow. This assignment was a little harder than I thought it would be, but your post is brilliant, girl!

Pepper said...

Thanks for stopping by.
You know, I've realized that I cover some deep issues in my romantic comedy - isn't that weird? It almost seems like a contradiction to me.
But my Speculative fiction and my romantic suspense get pretty serious - 'deathly' serious.

I'm with you on the George Lucas fan thing. What fun!!

Pepper said...

You know, my dear friend, I have such a hard time with 'short'.
I even wrote a post one time called Writing Short When You're Long Winded :-)
So hard.
And this assignment was more difficult than I thought. Loved it - but it was still tough :-)

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I feel so "lost" in my story, but whenever I read your posts I am encouraged. I either see that I'm not as lost as I think I am, or I know exactly what I need to do in order to continue. Thanks!

Pepper said...

so glad this could be an encouragement.
I really should think of some award to give people for reading through the whole post.
It's easy to get lost in the trees. I seem to get my 'big picture' about 1/3 of the way through the book.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh, my stars. Me and Indiana in the SAME POST.

God is good, Pepster! ;)

You're such a thinker, I loved this breakdown. And I love these movies, my kids would watch them multiple times and they were so fun. Even the snakes and rats. Don't you just love seeing Indy figure his way out of mayhem????


My word veri is "quitonic"

Either I need a tonic aimed at quitting OR....

It's a spin on Quixote....

And I'm wonderful.

Or just a dweeb. Loved this Pepper. Fantasy is fun, but it does need a clean line of thought to make sense in the end. But I LOVE the curving road that creates that clean line.

Casey said...

I loved how you said MEANINGFUL action needs to be our focus in writing our books. Very wise statement!

I went with the siblings and saw Cars 2 yesterday and this would be a movie after the hearts of Indiana Jones' fans. Have your boys see it yet?? :)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

What a classic!

And I love the #2 about shoving characters out of their predictable lives. Shake it up, yes!

And your #5. I love it when my characters surprise me by what they've learned at the end of a novel.

~ Wendy

Mary Connealy said...

Thanks for the kind words about my book, Pepper. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Krista Phillips said...

Great points, Miss Pepper~!!!!

Loved the "meaningful" action as well.

In my first book, I had a beginning scene that had a silly action scene in it. And it WAS funny, if I do say so myself. And while it kicked of the story with a funny action, it didn't exactly help the plot any. So I switched it to an equally as funny (I think) action scene that did a better job of fitting in with the plot. The comments I got on it were MUCH improved.

May the K9 Spy (and KC Frantzen) said...

Hey Pepper,
Will have to read this when I have more time than right this sec.
GOOD stuff here!
I'm glad you're a little long-winded - more meat to digest here! ;D
I just finished To Die For by Sandra Byrd and found it to be a page-turner. Odd, because I already knew the ending. She did a masterful job weaving many of the things you mention. Recommended!

Angie Dicken said...

Great post, Pepper! Indiana Jones are my all time fave movies!! Love the action and adventure! I have found that I needed to shove my characters into more situations between point A and B. It helped grow them as characters and gave opportunities for heightened tension. Great job!

Pepper said...

Ruthy said:
"Fantasy is fun, but it does need a clean line of thought to make sense in the end"

Were you trying to get existential on me, Ruthy? :-)
Yes, oh yes! Fantasy is fun. Curvy - but oh so fun. What would adventure be without a little peril, right? Evil stepmothers, trolls, dragons, rats, snakes, larger than life characters - in any form. Gotta love it.

Pepper said...

Hey Case,
Nope - haven't seen Cars 2 yet, but I know my younger kids would love it.
Mayhem. Noise. Revving engines for cars that TALK.
What's not to love :-)

Pepper said...

Agreed, Wendy
Why is it always so surprising when our characters 'surprise' us? Probably because we think we're in control, right?
It's all a facade :-)

Pepper said...

Hi Mary!!!
A review will be up on my personal blog tomorrow.
What fun!

Pepper said...

WAY TO GO, KRista!
Cutting our wonderful prose can be painful. Especially when we're so funny, right? Who wants to get rid of funny?
Alas, if it doesn't move the plot along you were very right. I just got rid of the first 5 chapters of my novel. BLAH!
But it's better.
I hope.

Pepper said...

Oh KC,
I did get carried away with this didn't I?
But hopefully it will be good stuff when you get a chance to read it.
I've not had the opportunity of reading Sandra Byrd before. I'll have to look her up

Whitney said...

Pepper- I'm a big Indie fan and agree with your choice (that is not the word I'm looking for) of the first and third Indies being the only two worth watching. The second has some merit-- the beginning and the end, but the middle should just have been cut out. lol. The 4th one... what 4th one?

Great points to keep in mind when building both character, plot, and memorable and meaningful action.


Sarah Forgrave said...

Plot as the main character of the book...Whoa, now that is an awesome way to think of it. Great post, Pepper!