You killed my father. Prepare to die.
Of all the quotable lines in The Princess Bride, this one is perhaps the most iconic. With the exception of one character (whom we will get to next week), no one in the movie is more associated with a single line than Inigo. It is absolutely central to his character—the whole story of his father’s death and his subsequent quest for revenge has shaped his life.
How does this apply to noveling? Well, the line comes up for the first time fairly early in the story. Westley has made it to the top of the Cliffs of Insanity and Inigo offers him the chance to rest before they duel. While they rest, he asks, rather off-handedly, if Westley has six fingers on his right hand. When it’s established that he doesn’t, he proceeds to tell the story.
At this point, it could just be a nice story. However, a few scenes later Westley and Buttercup come out of the Fire Swamp right into the waiting arms of Prince Humperdink and Count Rugen. After Buttercup has been taken away, Westley notices Count Rugen—“You have six fingers on your right hand. Someone’s been looking for you.” Hmmm… now it’s been mentioned twice, and might actually play a role in the plot.
We learn quite a bit in the next few scenes about how twisted Count Rugen is, and then it’s time for Fezzik to locate Inigo. Once again, the subject of the six-fingered man comes up—at which point Inigo promptly passes out. He sobers up, and he and Fezzik go on a quest to find Westley. You see? The thought of finding the six-fingered man is enough to shake him out of his drunken stupor and finally do the one thing he was meant to do.
I could go on and on here, because really this is the strongest sub-plot in the entire film. By the time we get to that pivotal scene where he’s been stabbed several times by Rugen, we understand that this is no mere throwaway line. “Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
We are entering Week Four of NaNoWriMo. Right now, most of our stories are somewhere around the Miracle Max scene—build up to the climax—and hopefully, we will all reach our own duel scenes in the next seven days. If you’re stuck for words or don’t know what to do with your plot, look back at what you wrote in the first week (not to edit!!) and find some random line or action that you can turn into this kind of scene. You may find that you’ve unconsciously built one in. Good for you! Take that thematic hint and develop it into a fantastic crescendo of plotty and wordy goodness.
If you don't have one already, that's why I told you to look back at your early chapters. Without looking at the grammar or spelling, skim for something that sparks an idea for this kind of scene. Don’t worry about including extra references to it throughout your story. You can go back and add those later. For now, just concentrate on that climactic duel and boost that word count!
Next week: Marriage. Marriage is what brings us together today...
PS: If you haven't heard, my 2008 NaNo novel His Good Opinion is now available for sale!