The Exorcist -- Page Four
The Exorcist, Continuing, Page 14, page four of novel,
They'd completed the interiors in Hollywood. All that remained were a few exterior scenes on the campus of Georgetown University, starting tomorrow. It was Easter vacation and the students were away.
Note the time, Easter vacation, is a time of a resurrection. For this story, it will be both a resurrection of evil and a resurrection (making visible) the goodness that combats that evil. Blatty picks the background details that serve his story.
She was getting drowsy. Heavy lids. She turned to a page that was curiously ragged. Bemused, she smiled. Her English director. When especially tense, he would tear, with quivering, fluttering hands, a narrow strip from the edge of the handiest page and then chew it, inch by inch, until it was all in his mouth.
Her momentary encounter with the dark is already beginning to pull her mind downward into the darkness of sleep. Note that in this passage something has happened to Chris's script after that encounter, something has chewed the edge of the pages. Chilling, when you stop to think about it.
Note also the set up for the Director as a character. He comes across as a morbid man who prepares the strips of cloth for a mummy by working them in his mouth. Or, one could simply say he's been set out to be nervous and high strung. Still, there's the apt use of words to set out character details about him.
Dear Burke. She yawned, then glanced fondly at the side of her script. The pages look gnawed. She remembered the rats. The little bastards sure got rhythm. She made mental note to have Karl set traps for them in the morning.
The author sets up a moment -- something has chewed on the edges of the pages of Chris's script -- then finishes the moment -- she thinks that the rats did it. The author takes great care to follow through on what he sets up. Note also that the mention of rats leads Chris to think about Karl, her handyman. By giving Chris a reason to think about Karl, the author guides us to expect his appearance in the story. Last note, I don't think the traps Karl's going to set out are going to bother the "rat" now loose in Chris's house. Again that subtle effort by the author to set up his audience to be "in the know" about a situation in a way that they react to Chris's thoughts about the rats, but they know the reality of the situation. These moments of understanding for the audience never just happen in this novel. They are designed by its author.
Fingers relaxing. Script slipping loose. She let it drop. Dumb. It's dumb. A fumbling hand groping out to the light switch. There. She sighed. For a time she was motionless, almost asleep; and then kicked off her covers like a lazy leg. Too freaking hot.
Note how Chris is being relentlessly pulled down toward sleep, the author creating a quality of movement for this moment. Note how that because she resists, the author creates drama over the outcome of her resistance to falling asleep. A storyteller always looks for ways to make each moment of a story dramatic, not merely descriptive. Note also the economy of words used to describe her struggle to stay awake. Her finding a reason for this drowsiness, that the script is dumb. Her irritation at noticing the heat and reacting both physically and with a thought.
A mist of dew clung soft and gentle to the window panes.
Note the subtlety of the heat that comes out of the darkness pulling Chris toward sleep is contrasted with the dew that "clung soft and gentle to the window panes." The contrast heightens the drama of the moment as sleep overcomes Chris.
Note in passing that we don't know the color of the couch Chris is on or the nature of its fabric. I'm sure if it were important to the story, the author would tell us. Many writers struggle because they slip into what I call "describing the furniture" of their story, setting out all kinds of detail meant to bring a scene to life, but inherently lifeless if they are not used to sustain a story advancing along its story and plot line.
Blatty sets his story into motion and uses details that sustain that advance. He never pauses to describe a moment just to describe it. He always has a deeper purpose in what he describes. He introduces the story and sets it into motion in a way that gives a dramatic purpose of the Jesuit father and why he's at the dig in Northern Iraq. That dramatic purpose cues us to what is special about the house. He then brings us to Chris, who presents us to Regan, coming back to Chris who thinks about Karl in a way that sets up his introduction and dramatic purpose in the story. What's happening here is that the author is setting up and setting into motion a story that revolves around this battle between good and evil in a way that his audience is aware of the purpose of the story. The elements of the story are arranged and designed so the author's audience is always aware of why he's setting before them a particular moment. And because the story has a clear purpose with an anticipated outcome around this battle between good and evil, the story's audience looks forward to the continuation of this journey to its resolution of this battle and the fulfillment it creates.
Put another way, Blatty crafts an entry into the world of his story and makes sure that the story journey is engaging, enticing and rewarding. Another author might write a story that could create a movement compared to a roller coaster ride. A third, a story that creates a movement of subtle perceptions and illuminations about life. The particular nature of the journey is created by the design of the storyteller.
Continue to The Exorcist -- Page Five Review