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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Da Vinci scene 1, take 2

After my critique of the opening scene of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code over the past couple of posts, I have decided to stump up some prose of my own as an alternative. I've just sketched in a rewrite of the first part of the scene, using the principles that I've mentioned in the previous posts.

Curious?

If you want to refresh your mind as to how the real book opens, check this post first.

Here's what I came up with:

A telephone was ringing--tinny, strange. Robert Langdon, dragged from a deep sleep, felt a spike of alarm in the cavelike darkness.

Where the hell am I?

The room was hot and still; he smelled stale cigarette-smoke. Paris. Yes: Hotel Ritz. Relieved to remember where he was, but not liking the dark, he fumbled for the bedside lamp and switched it on, snatching up the telephone handset as he sank back into the massive bed.

"Hello?" he croaked.

"Mr. Langdon? I'm very sorry to disturb you." It was the concierge, the short guy with dyed hair. His English was excellent. "There is a policeman here who wants to speak with you."

"What?" said Langdon. He glanced at the bedside clock: 12:32 A.M.

"I told him to wait until tomorrow, but he says it is urgent."

"What?"

"I don't know what it's about," said the concierge. "He wouldn’t say."

As though searching for an answer, Langdon looked dumbly around the pretentious opulence of his Louis XVI room: its heavy drapes, its frescoed walls.

Five sharp raps sounded on his door.

Langdon jerked involuntarily, an instinct to run away. He remembered stories of how the Gestapo would always show up in the middle of the night. He could see why. His heart thumped, his mind was blank.

"Am I under arrest?" he said.

"Oh no Mr. Langdon," said the concierge, "I don’t think so."

You don't think so? thought Langdon.

"It's very rude of them to disturb a guest at this hour," said the concierge. "We'll be filing a complaint."

Great, thought Langdon, you can keep me posted on that in my jail cell.

There were three more raps at the door.

"Hold on!" said Langdon, now feeling anger. To no one in particular he added, "Gotta put some clothes on." Then, sarcastically, into the phone: "Thanks for calling."

He hung up and swung his legs out of bed. The four-poster, too big for the room, sagged and creaked so much that Louis XVI had probably slept in it himself. No doubt his hosts, the American University in Paris, thought they were treating him well. A surge of adrenaline was making him tremble. Wanting to stop that before he opened the door, he took his time pulling on some underpants and putting on the hotel's monogrammed jacquard bathrobe.

Breathe deeply. Think. What have I done or seen in Paris that could possibly be of interest to the police?

Then another, much worse thought came: what if this was about his family back in Cambridge? Had his son crashed that goddamn motorcycle? Langdon strode to the door, no longer caring whether he trembled or not.

I think that instead of going to a flashback of Langdon's lecture, I would let backstory emerge in his interview with the cop. That seems a natural place for us to find out Langdon's job and what he's doing in Paris, and what he was up to today. Since the reader shares some of the same curiosity as the cop, the writer can use that to answer questions in the reader's mind.

It's not perfect--but I think it's better.


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1 Comments:

  • You should make money out of editing some of those bestsellers. I know a few that needed it. ;)

    Just one thing that struck me, though I admit it's a pet peeve of mine:
    The room was hot and still; he smelled stale cigarette-smoke. Paris. Yes: Hotel Ritz. Relieved to remember where he was, but not liking the dark, he fumbled for the bedside lamp and switched it on, snatching up the telephone handset as he sank back into the massive bed.

    The underlined phrase explains something the reader can already conclude by the pervious sensations, and I don't like to be told things I have already figured out. :)

    You could highten the claustrophobic feel from Landon's POV by saying:

    The room was hot, still, and dark - blackness without even a streak from the street lamps. He smelled stale cigarette-smoke. Paris. Yes: Hotel Ritz. Langdon took a deep breath, fumbled for the bedside lamp and switched it on, snatching up the telephone handset as he sank back into the massive bed.

    By Blogger Gabriele C., at April 19, 2007 4:21 PM  

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