Scene 1, Take 3

One of the hardest lessons for me to learn as a writer was that every scene has to do more than one thing. I happen to like old fashioned stories that meander along establishing character and place before diving into “the story.”

But like everything else around us, pacing is faster these days. Here’s how David Farland says it:

A real first scene will…create a setting, develop a conflict, and introduce characters at the same time. It will simultaneously set a tone for the novel and drive the story forward toward its inciting incident.Β 

And people wonder why we get writer’s block. That’s a lot to expect from the beginning of a book!

I’m rewriting the first scene in a new novel and trying to make sure it does all of these things. Remembering that there’s a rewrite coming helps me get past the fear of getting everything right. It doesn’t have to all be there on the first draft. Or the second. But before it goes out, that first chapter needs to shine or agents/editors/readers won’t keep reading.

What important lessons have you learned as a writer?

21 thoughts on “Scene 1, Take 3

  1. Have you read HOOKED by Les Edgerton? It's a great book on story beginnings, but it's also a bit intimidating to see a list of ALL the things an opening is supposed to do. If I get even a couple of those things into a beginning, I'm happy! πŸ™‚

  2. I've learned that too much detail can slow down the story. Too little can leave a reader confused. (I do the too little part, but have read some wips with too much.)

  3. That's one of the most difficult things I've found, too — having a scene do several things at once. Good luck with it!

    Like Lydia, I've learned to just write the first draft with my editor hat off. Otherwise, I'd never get anything written. πŸ™‚

  4. That we can drop the reader a lot further into a scene than we thought–especially for those of us (yes, me, too) who DO enjoy those rambly beginnings from our childhoods. πŸ™‚

    I second Anna's recommendation of HOOKED. Yes, intimidating, but I start to see all that in the really good openings,since Les showed me what to look for!

  5. That's a great description to remember when working on the first chapter.

    The biggest thing I'm learning lately is to start the story in the right spot. You might have conflict in the first chapter, and all your characters and the tone, but if the first several lines are boring then no one will get to the rest.

  6. I just recently cut 6,000 words off my manuscript, realizing that some scenes were only character development during transition.

    But recently, I learned that I usually start a scene too early and end it later than needed.

  7. I tend to want to get the details right on the first run…not happening. Slowly I'm learning 1st draft write the story. There WILL be other drafts to get the specifics right. Case in point I realize I have a couple major changes to make, if I stop now I'm going to lose the momentum I have. Perfect solution – I keep a notebook detailing what changes need to be made and where. A template for the next draft. (Hugs)Indigo

  8. Anna: I'm embarrassed to say that I DO have Hooked, but I haven't read it yet. Guess I should move that to the top of my pile πŸ™‚

    Carolyn: I do too little as well. My second draft is when I fill in detail.

    Diane: I had a hard time with conflict too. I kept writing sweet stories where not much happened…

    T.Anne: You have a great weekend too!

    Lydia: That inner editor can be cruel, don't you think?

    Corey: Great advice, but so hard to follow!

    Sandy: My inner editor is very stubborn. It's so hard to shut her up :0

    Becky: Yes, those rambly starts can be so lovely IMHO πŸ™‚ Guess I really need to read Hooked!

    Cindy: I sweat over the opening lines. So hard to make them brilliant!

    Candy: Ha! I prefer M 'n' Ms πŸ˜€

    Laura: Six thousand words is a LOT! Those character development scenes are so tough to cut. I sympathize!

    Bish: I hope that's true πŸ™‚

    Elaine: One author I interviewed says she still changes stuff after the book is published. She'll just write in the margins then use the revised version when she's reading to kids!

    Piedmont: In some ways it gets easier with the next book, but the opening is always tough for me.

    Rena: Yeah, the editing as you go can be killer.

    Indigo: The notebook is a great idea! Keeps the writer AND the editor happy πŸ™‚

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