‘A Lodging For The Night’ by Robert Louis Stevenson

A Lodging For The Night by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1877

The magic trick:

An exemplary inciting incident

We’re off to Scotland this week, and I can’t think of a better author to begin with than Robert Louis Stevenson.

Of course, the irony is that today’s feature isn’t set in Scotland at all. Instead we travel back to 15th century Paris. But I’m not going to worry about that little detail as it relates to our SSMT theme this week.

RLS is Scottish. He wrote this story. So we place in Scotland Week, and here we go.

“A Lodging For The Night” features an exemplary inciting incident. Perfectly placed about 20 percent of the way through the text, it’s a dramatic and surprising moment, more exciting than most stories’ climax. The reader is hooked and the plot moves quickly from there. Brilliant stuff.

And that’s quite a trick on Stevenson’s part.

The selection:

The cemetery of St. John had taken its own share of the snow. All the graves were decently covered; tall white housetops stood around in grave array; worthy burghers were long ago in bed, benightcapped like their domiciles; there was no light in all the neighbourhood but a little peep from a lamp that hung swinging in the church choir, and tossed the shadows to and fro in time to its oscillations. The clock was hard on ten when the patrol went by with halberds and a lantern, beating their hands; and they saw nothing suspicious about the cemetery of St. John.

Yet there was a small house, backed up against the cemetery wall, which was still awake, and awake to evil purpose, in that snoring district. There was not much to betray it from without; only a stream of warm vapour from the chimney-top, a patch where the snow melted on the roof, and a few half-obliterated footprints at the door. But within, behind the shuttered windows, Master Francis Villon the poet, and some of the thievish crew with whom he consorted, were keeping the night alive and passing round the bottle.


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