American Gods is the award-winning novel, from the incredibly talented hands of Neil Gaiman that is also being adapted for HBO.
Thought the first chapter is about 30 fairly dense pages, much in the style of early Stephen King (sparse prose with minimal but impactful description), by the end of page 10 we’re on a mission…
1st and foremost is what he labels ‘Caveat and Warning for Travelers’. Though written as somewhat of a disclaimer that defends his right to use actual locations (and dares the reader to visit for themselves). This is a prologue, albeit a very creative one. For it sets the tone of the narrative (the elusive unique voice new writers search for) and hints at the theme, and perhaps some plot points.
Much about prologues is boo-hoo’ed these days in both novels and screenplays and it aggravates me to no end. When a prologue works it is a key component of master storytelling in any day and age. Yes, you have to get into the action on page one, (when writing for any format) but there is abso-effin-lutely nothing wrong with welcoming your reader into the world of that action. Especially when done as creatively and succinctly as Gaiman has here. And in the case of screenplays, where would one of the most celebrated films of all time (in fact it just celebrated a 34 year old anniversary yesterday, I believe) be without that iconic screen crawl in a galaxy far, far away. Yes, Lucas did STAR WARS his way but clearly he knew what he was doing. Similarly, many successful screenplays are shot and edited in such a way that the ‘prologue’ is the snippet that happens before the title cards (or behind the title cards). So please by all means, write prologues just make sure they are so well written, the reader doesn’t know that’s what they are.
Next up: PG 1, Paragraph 1.
1st paragraph AMERICAN GODS
How simple is this? We don’t need to know that his grimy once orange jumpsuit had 3 holes in the elbows or that it didn’t fit him properly, or even what his prisoner # was that was stenciled over the chest pocket. Descriptors like these are all too common with new writers trying to puff out their character’s personality when this is all it takes to get to the heart of the matter. It works just right for the novel and for a screenplay, I imagine you’d want to describe his ‘fitness’ and perhaps the look on his face and maybe he has a ‘wife tattoo’ or some sort, but the ‘don’t fuck with me’ attitude is also perfect for a screenplay action line and any actor would love to provide their take on that, extra bonus given for not directing the actor.
Don’t get me wrong – American Gods is loaded with sensory detail, but they do not bog down the 1st 10 pages, they are spoon-fed after you’re engrossed, much like medicine, only as needed.
The next half a dozen pages introduce the (greek) god plot point and builds upon the notion that Shadow has a bad feeling as well as establishes the timeline for him getting out and just how close he and his wife still are, in much the same style as that first paragraph.
Like clockwork by the bottom of page 10 we know he only has until Friday (2 days) and he’s free, but he’s warned that his bad feeling is right and a ‘big storm is coming’ and he’d actually be safer on the inside when it does.
As with most of Mr. Gaiman’s work, extensive looks are available online for you to see for yourself. I urge you to read until page 13 and dare you not to go further.
Enjoy, AMERICAN GODS
This is definitely one we’ll be looking for the finished script on.
Lots of Notes from the Net coming up soon as well as some screenplay 1st 10’s.