Since wrapping up my most recent set of revisions on Stars I’ve been toying with my next planned story, given the working title of Drago Mafioso. Yesterday I wrote the opening scene for the fourth time from scratch. I’ve been having some trouble nailing the voice and tone I want for the story; each time I’d get a little closer, but still not quite there. I haven’t wanted to keep going with the story till I was feeling comfortable with that first scene, but I’m thinking I can carry on this time.
Like everything with my writing, it’s something I’ve evolved into slowly. In my first stories I had an idea for the opening and I put it down and ran (and kept running through the whole story). I’ve gotten more disciplined with recent manuscripts; and not only are the stories better for it, but I spend less time in revisions.
Then last month I had a flash of insight into beginnings, from a comment left on my Blind Speed Dating entry. The bouncer who put me through said, “In 250 words, I know who she is, what motivates her, what her world is like, and it’s all happening in the middle of action. I am riveted.” Now, when I wrote it I hadn’t spent long pondering the specifics of the scene, I just wrote what felt right at the time. But clearly I hit the nail on the head with it.
The insight I got from the bouncer’s comment was regarding the purpose of that first scene. I’d heard advice before – start with action, but not too much action; start with a hook, but don’t be too cryptic; include backstory, but don’t infodump – but they hadn’t really gelled into something I could use as a blueprint. This time, it did.
In my past stories, all five of them prior to Stars, I’d had my opening scene be the one where the inciting incident happened. The purpose of that first scene was setting up the Big Change at the end of it, and I was focused on introducing tension, creating mystery. I was trying to work my character and setting introductions in around that.
For whatever reason, with Stars I deviated from that and the opening scene was simply an introduction. In fact, in Scrivener I have that one labeled “Chap 1 – Tal – Intro”. It’s active – she’s assassinating a target – and so I hope grabs the reader’s attention right off, but that particular assassination doesn’t actually have that much to do with the storyline. It introduces us to what her job is, how she views her job, what her personality is like, what the world around her is like, and, at the end, deposits us at the central location of the story. Basically, everything the bouncer said.
So now with Drago I’ve been thinking a lot harder about that opening scene and its purpose. There wasn’t an obvious setting here the way the assassination was for Stars. I wanted something active, but I wanted the particular action to say something about the character, the way the assassination did for Talon in Stars. It needed to introduce the hook that makes the story unique (assassins in Stars; dragons in Drago). I wanted to show her personality and motivations, and introduce some supporting cast. I struck on the idea of having her steal some chocolate bars from a local convenience store using her dragon in order to satisfy a chocolate craving, with the bonus of screwing over a jerk of a classmate who worked there. And now it’s just been about executing it right.