by Julie, enjoying moderate weather in Somerville, though still getting used to Daylight Saving Time (which she wished either didn’t happen or was permanent)
I plot my books thoroughly before I start writing them. It can take me up to a month to figure out all of the scenes, the transitions, subplots. I also need to make sure everyone is in the book, and that any story arc that came from a previous book or is moving on to the next has enough juice in it to matter. All of these are the writer activities I employ.
I’ve begun to think of every scene in my book as a small play, so I show the action rather than describing it, and then I go back and layer in the physicality and the details. Even though I know what I want to happen in the first scene, getting there takes me several tries. I want readers of previous books to think to themselves “hi Lilly”. But I also want folks who are new to the series to be introduced to the town and the people so they are grounded in the story from the beginning. The challenge with that is that I need to set up a scene where Lilly shows that she is a town matriarch, has a strong character and even stronger opinions. Though I had plotted the scene for the beginning of the third as yet untitled Garden Squad book, this one took a few tries to get it right.
My wrestling made me consider other opening scenes, and start to critique them. I’ve been focusing on new to me stories, movies, and television shows and how they introduce the reader or the viewer to the world and to the story. In most stories you have a moment or two of what the world is like before the inciting incident that drives the drama forward.
But there are other stories, and I’m thinking about Russian Doll on Netflix, where the first scene sets you up with the not normal right away. I watched some old Hart to Hart movies, made after the TV show, this week. They introduced the story and the characters as a stand alone, but if you knew the old series you understood another layer. I love watching Columbo opening scenes, because they show you the murder that you can’t imagine anyone would be able to figure out.
So now I’m fascinated with first scenes. How do they set up the story? Do they compel me to keep reading or watching? Do they set up questions that I want answered?
Any preferences out there? Do you like the first scenes in a book or movie to get you right into the action, or do you want a set up first? Do you have expectations when you are reading a book in a series that you are going to catch up with folks first?
Any favorite opening scenes?