1. Senyu
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    Senyu New Member

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    Opening Scene

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Senyu, Nov 10, 2009.

    Hello, I'm new here and wanted some advice. I'm currently working on a fantasy novel and I'm starting out with a landscape scene at night with a small action of a group moving through shadows.

    I'm trying to get the reader a sense of the barren rocky land and it's hazards. Also how tense the group is when followed by the enemy.

    I have re-written it a few times and probably more to come, but I think I need other peoples opinions on how to open a scene like this and is it alright to post what I have so far on the forums for people to read it?
     
  2. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes it'd probably be better if you posted your opening in the novel section for review. But don't forget to do the mandatory critiques first.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Before you can get critique, you must first give critique. This is not just a quid pro quo, it is because improving your critiquing skills is the primary focus of the Review Room workshop. Improving your critiquing skills will improve your ability to find and fix weaknesses in your own writing.

    But in any case, all writing posted for comment must be posted in the Review Room critiquing workshop, after you have begun participating in te workshop by writing constructive critiques.

    In the process of writing critiques, you may very well learn enough, even at the beginning, to find and fix problems in the excerpt you want help with.
     
  4. Dcoin
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    Dcoin Contributing Member

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    Don't forget not to dump too much information all at once.
     
  5. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    You can show the dangers through action and dialog. This might be a strong beginning to the scene as well. You can also show it or tell it through introspection in narrative format. You can use a mix of both.

    Try to make the MC's goal and motivation clear to the reader as soon as possible. That is what I try to do anyway. And I try to do this for every scene.

    Try to describe the landscape as much as possible with thoughts and actions. Nonetheless, you want some sort of setting for the character's to interact with, so I think it is a good idea to start with a clause that places the characters some place.



    Under the gloomy sky, Jack Four drank from his water skin.

    The Blah Blah had been tracking them for two days, and they really gave Jack no choice but to go through the hazardous wasteland. He had to, though, because it was the only way to get to Sarah in time.

    As he walked, he slipped on a sharp rock and slammed, shoulder first, into the pebbles. When he slipped sideways, his back slammed into a boulder, but he managed to catch himself before sliding off the cliff. A fiery burn crawled up his lower back, almost making him lose his grip. Ignoging the pain, he looked over his shoulder and way down at the spiky shards that would pierce him like an ice pick piercing a melon. Then he glanced back up at the group, each with fear in their eyes.

    Tom rushed to his rescue and reached out his arm. Jack gripped him by the wrist, and Tom pulled him up.

    "I told you these rocks are dangerous," Tom said.

    Hunching over, Jack held his lower back. "You think I don't know that?"

    He was snappy, and he knew it, but he couldn't apologize, not now at least. He wanted to kick something for being so stupid, no, for looking so stupid.

    "We best get going," Tom said. "They're still tracking us."



    Anyway, I got carried away. Perhaps someone else could give a better example.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The example above contains an awful lot of telling. Stay with the Now, and show the danger through the behavior of your characters:

     
  7. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    But I still don't know what his motivation or goal is. I can assume the goal is to get somewhere, but I have no way to know what his motivation is. Why is he trying to do whatever he is trying to do? I assume is to get somewhere, or perhaps find something.

    Telling via introspection-like narrative, I think is one of the best ways to reveal motivation. Often in novels, motivation is shown through dialog as well.

    If a person is frantically searching for his car keys, it isn't that exciting if we don't know why he is doing it. But if we know he is about to be late for an important meeting, the search for his car keys is more tense. And if we know his motivation for being at this meeting, it gets even better. His motivation is, if he is late to this meeting, his boss told him he wouldn't get his Christmas bonus, and he is counting on the bonus to buy his son the bicycle his son has wanted for a year.

    In novels, that motivation would usually be told by introspection or narration.

    (That piece of narration shows a lot of things that it does not tell. It shows that the Father struggles with money because he can't even afford a bike without a bonus. It shows he loves his son. It shows he is proud. It shows that he cares what his son thinks. It shows that he hasn't been able to give his son a good Christmas, at least not for the last few. But most importantly, it tells the reader why he should care about the search for the car keys.) Narration shouldn't be avoided out of fear of telling. Just be sure your narration shows as well.

    Or through dialog.

    "Where are my keys," he yelled, not meaning to.

    "Have you checked your pockets," Sandy said.

    "Yes. Please, just help me find the damn things or I will not get that Christmas bonus."

    Blah blah it would go on.

    Oh, I forgot to mention that even introspection like the following, shows.

    It shows that he cares about what people think of him. He is proud to some extent because he cares about not looking foolish. It shows he is somewhat compassionate because he cares about possibly hurting Tom's feelings by being snappy.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I dont really agree. You can convey the urgency without explaining to the reader why there is urgency. Keep the reader guessing, and that in itself adds tension.

    That isn't to say you mustn't reveal motivation. Sometimes it can raise the stakes for the reader, other times it's better to let the reader guess or infer the motivation or motivations.

    However, taking the reader out of the present in mid-scene to feed the reader a motivation is nearly always a bad idea. The paragraph explaining the boss' threat is exactly that. It demoilishes the flow of the scene. You did exactly the same thing with the previous example, in the paragraph that began with, "The Blah Blah had been tracking them for two days."

    Keep a sharp eye out for those "out of time" excursions, and I think you'll find your writing becomes much tighter and more focused.
     
  9. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    In Odd Thomas, by Dean Koontz, at the end of chapter one, he stops in the middle of a scene, right before the chase scene to tell us Odd's motivation to chase the guy.

    During the chase scene, they crash into a swimming pool. Dean Koontz stops the action, right in the middle Odd coming out of the water and before he swims after the person he has been chasing. Koontz stops the action to tell us about why Odd is not that comfortable with swimming in the water.

    Not long after that, Koontz stops the action again to tell us what is at stake for Odd.


    Hinting at the goal, motivation, and stakes is a good technique as well. Tom Clancy does this in his opening paragraph of Red Storm Rising.

    He doesn't say what the task is, but at least we know their goal, to complete the task.
     
  10. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    I don't mean to hijack the thread, but I have a teeny question.

    You want to hook your readers. There are many ways of doing this, and perhaps the most obvious one for me (in regards to my audience) is an action scene. But is there something like too much action? Is it easy to overdo it?
     
  11. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Jwatson, one thing you could do is look at best selling novels. Highlight the action clauses in red. See how the authors weave introspection, dialog, discription, and general narration into the action scenes.

    Here is a small example of what I mean from The Bourne Identity, by Robert Ludlum, which is an action packed novel.



    I used a part that has more action clauses than others. If you do this to a whole action scene, you will see a lot of black.
     
  12. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    Great post, Arch. Is this the beginning of the novel (I've never picked one up)?


    Also, I would think it is different for amateurs trying to get published. I think the pros could probably get away with too much action at the opening of their novel. Is this right? I'm just afraid mine might be overdoing it...or maybe mine is just a violent novel.
     
  13. bruce
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    bruce Active Member

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    I prefer to make the readers care about the character first before the violent action sequence starts. Otherwise, it is meaningless violence.
     
  14. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    The beginning should somehow reflect the style of the work in entirety. If you start with non-stop action, then people will assume and expect alot of action through-out.

    Regarding motives, causes, etc, I agree with Cog. Maybe it's just a matter of taste, but I also prefer stories that keep me wondering at all times. If I know from page 1 what the objective of the chapter is, then what keeps me from skipping onto the next chapter? I already know what's gonna happen -- or, atleast I make the pompous assumption that I know.

    I think that's why I never really got as hooked on Lord of the Rings as the book probably deserved... I knew from the beginning that Frodo was gonna walk all the way to Mordor and toss the ring in the mountain, and a feeling of "Alright, just get it overwith already." sat in the back of my head all along.
     
  15. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    thanks guys, that was quite helpful.
     

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