>Clockwork of the Lost Ark

>I was watching Raiders of the Lost Ark for the umpteenth time at the weekend, when my wife interrupted to ask me why I enjoyed watching certain films over and over again. Or reading certain books, for that matter. The natural response to such a question is of course, “Hush, dear, I’m watching Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Instead, I trotted out something glib about favourite stories being like old friends.

But it got me thinking. Not everyone likes to revisit stories over and over. My wife doesn’t. Do you? Is it just some obsessive component of the male personality? Or is it more profound? What is it that makes me want to come back for more?

I think it comes down to this. Experiencing a story – through whatever medium – is a bit like sitting inside a gigantic piece of clockwork. You’re surrounded by the machinery of plot and character and performance and scenery and drama and surprise and … well, all that. All the time you’re in there, the clockwork’s whirring away. Sometimes it rattles you. Sometimes it purrs smoothly. Sometimes a great big bell starts banging in your ear. It’s got a rhythm and a sound and a smell and about a billion spinning widgets you just can’t keep your eyes off.

So each time I re-watch Raiders, or re-read Little, Big, or re-experience any number of a small heap of genuine faves, I’m climbing back inside that clockwork knowing my senses are going to be given one hell of a workout. And never mind all that five senses nonsense – when a decent story’s bowling you along I reckon you’ve got upwards of twenty. Because, as a writer, I’m especially interested in how all that clockwork goes together. There’s always something new to appreciate: how does this plot-cog mesh with that character-pinion? Just what is it that kicks the whole thing into a higher gear round about chapter three? And when you know what’s going to happen, there’s that delicious thrill of watching the pendulum wind up those counterweights to point where the clappers start hammering like crazy on the great big bell.

I could have said all this to my wife at the time, but I didn’t want to interrupt Indy while he was jumping off the horse and on to the truck. If he’d gone under the wheels, the Nazis would have got the Ark and then where would we be?

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