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It’s been an awesome class and I’ve learned so much! Now I can sort through my many openings and choose the most urgent, filled with rooting interests and details, but minus backstory. Many thanks to Linnea and my fellow inmates for all the insights and practical help.July 30, 2020 at 2:18 pm in reply to: A Tale of TWO OPENINGS : Finders Keepers/Linnea Sinclair #43019
They both start with a change that causes some action. She powers up her weapon and watches the ships in #1. However, #2 has a change that creates big action. She’s on the move big-time because of that change. Because she doesn’t feel safe, I worry. In #1, she apparently feels safe enough, even with her weapon at hand, because she’s just watching and calls it “entertainment”. I’m curious but not worried. #2 has more rooting interests and primal emotions—fear, worry, survival. The alarm immediately creates fear. The fear is backed up later when her skin chills when she sees something.
The details in #1 help us see the setting and she interacts with it as she climbs. The smoke and the flames are details that bring the crash to life, but I’m not as connected to emotion as I am with #2, but I found the scene and character credible. The details in #2 show the mess her ship is in and show setting details as she silences the alarm, flicks on the intraship, and sees the panel lights—all more reasons to worry for her. The detail of the bright sun interfering with her vision makes me (and her) more anxious. She is credible because she demonstrates knowledge and ability by repairing her ship and she knows how to use and fix the binocs. I also totally believe that she’d need filters to block the bright sun shining in her eyes.
#2 stays in the “now” and #1 does some looking back—“half an hour ago.” I don’t see a hint of an Origin Scene or misbelief but those are probably coming.
But don’t dump it all in the first 100 words.
Lesson Six Question
Everyone’s being so nice about my opening scenes. But Linnea, shouldn’t I add details about noises and smells and how his bare feet feel against the rough sidewalk? Or am I overthinking it? Hmm, maybe I already know the answer–add them if they mean something to the character or plot? Add the noise if it changes so he can overhear the uniforms, add the smell from the donut shop if that’s what makes his stomach rumble, add how his feet feel if someone steps on them and that’s why he makes a noise that attracts the notice of the uniforms? Yes? Maybe?
Thank you, Brenda!
Rebecca’s Lesson Six comments on Mary Haselbauer’s In the Cards
I know I’ve read some other comments on your piece but I can’t find them in this folder, so forgive me if I repeat something someone else has said. (Maybe I’m supposed to post in my own folder?)
I really like the Con setting and the idea that these women have created their own game. At least I think that’s what they’ve done. I think you need more specifics in that first paragraph because I don’t know where we are or what’s happening. Maybe there’s a way to combine it with the second one and Amber slides in quietly with lunch so Cecilia can keep talking to the client. The detail about the white paint on her thumbnail is specific but other than the reference to drawing a picture above that, I don’t really know why it’s there. Maybe she got it while painting the booth. If you had more details to break up the previous dialogue, I think we’d be more grounded in who these women are—what they care about, what their goals are, etc. The rest of the passage doesn’t really illuminate the plot or characters. There’s so much potential in the scene and I’d love to see more when you flesh it out.
Rebecca’s Lesson Six response to Lethal Lies:
I really like this set-up, Vicki, and I want to know what happens next. I’m mostly sympathetic and interested in a guy who is forced into taking a job he didn’t want to do. You’ve probably re-written this by now, but here are the specifics I found in Rewrite #2.
Building cases. Making arrests. A spot on an organized crime task force.
I like these examples that you’ve added to this revision. Maybe (not sure if this is the place for it??) this could be even more specific to the character and plot, such as Making arrests like finally taking down the Masked Dog Serial Killer who had rampaged through Oakton.
Drip. Drip. Drip. The leaky faucet in the airport’s break room kitchenette was driving him crazy.
I love this specific detail. It adds to his character and to the setting at the same time.
Nothing beat six years in the cockpit of an F-16 to make a guy comfortable commanding an aircraft.
I think this is well on the way to becoming another great and telling detail.
You then go into more specific details about the setting, which I find credible because he’s noticing these things in his boredom.
There is a place that loses credibility for me. When he first sees her, the way the details are presented make me not like him—it’s all about evaluating her appearance and attractiveness. I think he would assess her professionally, as an asset or liability to his mission, and he could be distracted by her appearance but not focused on it. I think that would fit better with your story and isn’t just my personal prejudice, but I could easily be wrong.
It doesn’t seem like he’d overhear their conversation if they were in a crowd
Great catch, Kathy. I’ll definitely make some changes there. Thanks.
her rather infamous blog, PUBRANTS.
I love PubRants! This is a great list and Angie’s examples really help to clarify the problems. One of my big issues is White Room Syndrome but your recent comments about making setting be something important to the MC or to the plot, as well as watching for changes, is a big ah-hah for me.
(I thought I’d reached an uneasy peace with this !@#$ platform but it keeps erasing my comment. Okay, copying it this time just in case.)
I meant New Adult.
Ah, everything makes sense now. 🙂
Yes, it’s called GMC/Conflict. 😉 The book ends when the major conflict is resolved.
<insert embarrassed smiley face> Oh. Yes, of course. And I own Kress’s book. Guess it’s time for a re-read.
Hi Kendra, I read and write MG and YA and I’m loving the idea of a girl who sees ‘the other side.’ You asked about “making it sound less like a YA novel to start.” You mean you want it to read younger? Maybe the moving boxes could be filled with the half-finished/intricate/boring/whatever craft projects she’d done to distract herself during her last horrible year at Nasty People Middle (elementary, if you want younger) School, or something like that. Also, it would help to consistently call her “Aunt” Linda. You could leave off the aunt if you want YA or an attitude, though we’d need to see the attitude more consistently. (This is all just my opinion. Ignore what doesn’t work for you.)
Back to our regularly scheduled programming…
Backstory: For me, the backstory is mostly dropped in nicely, like I’d eat a hat if Linda washed those before packing them up. I’d been busy with eighth grade exams. But the more I think about it, there’s a lot of backstory before the ferret. Could you start with hearing the voice and weave in backstory as she avoids looking at him? Maybe the voice comes from the bed where she’d carefully arranged her stuffies after taking them out of the moving boxes. And maybe she thinks Sure, she talks to them since they’re the only friends she has since they move around so much. But they’ve never talked to her before. Like I said above, just my opinion and ignore if it doesn’t resonate with you.
Hi, HiDee. The idea of a woman investigating (a noise? not sure why she went out) pulled me in. She’s brave and feels competent enough to check out possible trouble which is admirable. At the same time, I’m scared for her because who knows what she will find.
Backstory: The section that starts She blinked and took a deep breath. and ends with She intended to prove it once and for all. is all backstory that interrupts the tension that you’re building so well with her brave investigation. I don’t need to know this now, so I’d leave it out.
If you’re using the section to tell the reader why she went to check instead of calling the cops, you might consider keeping it super-short and tied to her current actions so you don’t break the tension. Maybe something like She’d learned to rely on herself since none of the men in her life, including her father, had been reliable. Who knew if the cops would be different?
Backstory that did work for me was this bit He might have disappeared from her life eight years ago with no explanation, but she couldn’t just leave him bleeding in her yard. It slides perfectly into the action.
Hope this helps!
It’s also very possible, since your MC is still a kid and his parents are dead, that he totally misconstrued their meaning with that advice.
So true and something I hadn’t considered. Thanks, this is all super helpful.
I know someone who, when she was a little girl
Oh no! And your mom, I mean your friend’s mom was just hoping for more smiles, not trying to ruin a self image.
A possible Ah-ha scene near the end of the book could include his correction or more adult-like understanding of that bit of wisdom, which would be a resolution of INTERNAL conflict along with whatever external issues are in the plot.
Perfect! <light bulbs going off> Have you considered doing an ENDINGS workshop?
Lesson Five Homework
Cron Origin Scene Ah hah–I think I have an OS. The one where his parents said “Take care of Us. Let the rest hang.” But, although I knew that he had to change his world view, I haven’t exploited it as much as I could throughout the novel. It’s mushy.
I think, especially when he first meets someone, he specifically needs to judge people based on this misbelief…how they’re going to affect him and his survival. But will that make him too self-centered and unlikeable?? Maybe if I also work with the idea that he’s betraying his parents if he changes his misbelief… They’re dead, so that could add to his guilt. I do have a ‘save the cat’ moment with a little kid, but one moment probably isn’t enough. (Still thinking this through, but I’m excited to give it a try.)
Rasley Plotting Problems-Hmm, maybe I need to remove the bit about his parents being dead and their mantra about taking care of Us. Maybe it “kills the suspense by telling right away how we got here to this opening situation.” But I have lots of other kinds of suspense so maybe it’s okay where it is. ARG! My brain is hurting.
Outsider kid vs cop is plenty of conflict and terribly relevant today. I do read middle grade and YA some and love this opening.
but not do all of that in the first three pages. The poor reader’s head would explode.
Ha! Exploding heads is my new goal! (not)
I understand, but I’ll be reading this over and over to make sure it’s sinking in and I’m doing it unexplosively.
I’m going to ding you for NOT recognizing you DO HAVE CONFLICT.
But, but… I thought I was supposed to make it worse and worse and worse. Not that I want to, in fact I’m happy to leave the poor guy as he is. Plus, yay! No revision.
Thank you, Linnea! I have several completed versions–different beginnings, different endings, but basically the same plot and emotional journey. I’m starting to see the strongest direction now.
The skates need to be easily recognizable and known to be lightweight. But, yes, I see now that the rest of the description can go.
You didn’t ding me on avoiding conflict! What a relief! I realized almost immediately that I need to take away those skates so he’d be in worse shape.
I’m rewriting to add sensory details and to add more conflict. Those probably aren’t issues you’ll address in this class, so I won’t hurry to post the revision. But I will if I have time because I love the feedback.
I’m learning so much. Thank you.
Thanks, everyone. This is a combination of beginnings I’ve written and I see I need to add in another one, where the security guys DO take his skates. I was avoiding the conflict (thanks, Linnea). And Kathy, you weren’t supposed to pick up on the difference in the description of the packages. You’re too smart!
INCITING INCIDENT Marrying for money
TRIGGER SET UP, AND/OR THE HOOK His brother’s death and debts
THE FIRE Married for money, now has a bride he doesn’t know and dislikes
CHANGE HAPPENING The marriage was a change but maybe the current change is getting to know his bride
EMOTIONS TRIGGERED BY CHANGE He must feel abandoned, frustrated, unloved, rejected. We see a glimpse of attraction and maybe hope that she’s more than he expected.
NEEDS Need to be loved, to belong
SUGGESTIONS I find your MC sympathetic because he was abandoned by his family and is trying to save the family estate in the only way he knows how. A little more sympathy might be created by having him care about something—hoping to see his old nanny? His pony? An old flame? Or instead of caring, perhaps he fears seeing them? (I’m not quite sure what or who he is panicking about when the estate is mentioned.) Or maybe he could be determined to treat his bride with respect even though he despises her. (the ‘civil relationship’ hints at that but maybe it could be hammered home a bit more.) That would be admirable. The bride is currently an enigma, which allows us to learn about her as he does. I’m expecting that, per genre conventions, we’ll probably see her POV next.
INCITING INCIDENT Agreeing to meet crush and his date for brunch
TRIGGER SET UP, AND/OR THE HOOK Doesn’t want to be in love with crush
THE FIRE ?? By agreeing to meet for brunch, she goes with Rory and finds out he wants a fake girlfriend.
CHANGE HAPPENING ??The determination to be over the crush and the upcoming action of seeing him at brunch. Or maybe it’s that Rory wants a fake girlfriend. After re-reading Lesson 2, I think it has to be seeing the crush because it’s “something the main character perceives as threatening” to her peace of mind. Although Rory’s fake girlfriend idea is unexpected, which is also a sign of change. Sorry, not clear on this one.
EMOTIONS TRIGGERED BY CHANGE I’m immediately hooked by the emotions raised by the idea of facing the crush–fear of not being loved, humiliation, rejection.
NEEDS Need to be loved
SUGGESTIONS I enjoyed reading this, Kathy, and I would read further. But I’m confused about what to focus on-facing the crush or her relationship with Rory. Perhaps if you amp up the emotions and needs, all will become clear.
Science Fiction/Middle Grade
“Out of the way, boy.”
Two uniformed men shouldered me aside and swaggered into the Galactic Deliveries
I stumbled on the crowded sidewalk. The blaster skates hanging around my neck swung
out and almost smacked a spindly old lady. “Sorry, ma’am,” I said.
She shook her head and hurried away.
My stomach growled and I ignored it like always, studying the starry GD logo floating in
front of the Galactic Deliveries door. Was it safe to go in?
Uniforms were never good. Never met any that lived up to the brightness of his shiny
buttons. Especially here in Earth Port City.
But it was my first day on the job and I didn’t want to be late. Besides, it wasn’t like I’d
done anything wrong.
Take care of Us. Let the rest hang. That’s what Ma and Pap taught me and that’s what I
did even though now it was just Take care of Me. Cause Ma and Pap were gone. Dead.
I squared my shoulders. That was all behind me. I had this delivery boy job now. As long as those
uniforms didn’t haul me away.
The boom of a booster K4 lifting off from the spaceport shook the whole street. Door
armor fused protectively over the shops until pebbles and debris stopped pinging against the
The Galactic Deliveries’ armor irised open, and the two uniforms strode out. I pressed
myself so tight against Patel’s Donut Shop that the bricks dug into my shoulder blades.
“You think we did right?” the bald uniform said, as they shoved their way through the
crowd. “Putting it through a regular delivery service?”
“You want to get shot up? Course we did right. Let someone else take the risk.”
Shot up. Risk. What were they talking about?
An oily-haired businessman strode along like he owned the place and knocked into me.
“Hey!” he yelled, like it was my fault.
The uniforms turned toward the noise and Oily Hair rushed away, leaving me exposed.
Bald Uniform reached for his weapon and that’s when I saw it. The blue lightning bolt on
his cuff. Not just any uniform. Elite Securities! If they thought you were going after their stuff,
they acted fast. Asked questions later. If you were still alive.
I quick raised my hands and froze. My blaster skates hung heavy as a noose on my neck.
Around me people rushed into the street or back the way they’d come.
“What do you think you’re doing, boy?”
Bald Guy sighted his weapon on me and I tried to melt into the front of the donut shop.
“Not a very good pickpocket, are you?”
“What? No! Going to work. Wasn’t trying to-”
“Work?” The second guy looked me over, from ragged hair to bare feet. He sneered.
“Dirty kid like you? You steal those skates?”
“No!” Found my skates in an abandoned house before those scavenging freegans picked
it dry. Almost fit me, too, and they were top quality. Made of Velancore, tough and light, despite the weight of the blaster cells and traction belt.
And I wasn’t dirty. I’d washed up this morning in the men’s room at the old subway
station. “I pick up deliveries. Don’t steal.”
Much. Unless I needed food. Which was almost always.
Bald Guy snorted. “Listen to that accent! Hick from the hills.” He waved his weapon.
“Hand over the skates. I’m confiscating stolen items.” He laughed.
“No!” I couldn’t make deliveries without my skates. Couldn’t make money. Might as
well shoot me right now.
The other uniform grabbed Bald Guy’s sleeve. “Let it go.” He glanced back at Galactic
Deliveries. “We don’t want to be seen here.”
Bald Guy glared at me. “Forget we were here or-” He left it hanging, holstered his
weapon and they were gone so fast it was like I’d imagined the whole thing.
I went cold as all the adrenaline drained outta me. Sagged with the relief, then
straightened cause I knew I was a clumsy idiot.
Rat-blast it. What was I doing, stumbling around like that? Didn’t use to stumble in the
hills. Could go all day without tripping over a single branch or stone.
My hands were still shaking when I shoved open the door to Galactic Deliveries and went
The noise hit me hard and I thought someone’d been shot. But then the shouted words
began to make sense.
“Mine, give it here, Vera!”
A bunch of messengers crowded round Vera’s circle desk, pushing and grabbing at the
edge, their blaster skates sliding under ’em. No blood. No broken bones. Elite Securities hadn’t done nothing bad here.
“What’s up?” I nudged Marlowe. Didn’t have friends. But Marlowe was okay. Kinda
goofy with his face paint, but okay.
He turned his blue face to me. Today he’d added a bright yellow sun on his forehead and
a cloud on his nose. “Hands Only just came in,” he muttered. His grey fuzzy hat slid sideways as he shoved his shoulder into Mannie’s back.
Was that what the Elite Securities guys had been doing? Dropping off a delivery? But
that didn’t make sense. They were hired to protect things, not give them to someone else.
Then it hit me what Marlowe’d said. Hands Only! HO deliveries meant extra money.
Danger pay. HO’s blew up if the wrong guy opened it. Nobody ever blew up a HO that I heard
of. ‘Cept that story about the rookie delivery boy…
Older couriers always got the HO’s. Not a chance I’d get it. Not a chance. “Vera, give it
to me!” I shouted, elbowing my way into the crowd.
(Author is Susan Grant, FYI.)
Thanks for the author info on these. I’m definitely hooked by a lot of these openings and I want to read more!
I love the emphasis on his people skills
Me,too. Miles’ cleverness is a huge draw for me throughout the series. And Shards of Honor is one of my favorite books, too.
I suspect you’ll find it great fun and helpful. Let me know…
Thanks for this. I’d forgotten about the list and now I see my emotional response reactions to the first pages are reflected in the list. Priceless! Printing and posting now.
I hope there’s a dog somewhere in that favorite story!
I like this series, too! And yes, the latest has dogs in it.
Warrior’s Apprentice/Lois McMaster Bujold
The tall and dour non-com wore Imperial dress greens and carried his communications panel like a field marshall’s baton. He slapped it absently against his thigh and raked the group of young men before him with a gaze of dry contempt. Challenging.
All part of the game, Miles told himself. He stood in the crisp autumn breeze and tried not to shiver in his shorts and running shoes. Nothing to put you off balance like being nearly naked when all about you look ready for one of Emperor Gregor’s reviews-although, in all fairness, the majority here were dressed the same as himself. The noncom proctoring the tests merely seemed like a one-man crowd. Miles measured him, wondering what conscious or unconscious tricks of body language he used to achieve that air of icy competence. Something to be learned there . . .
“You will run in pairs,” the non-com instructed. He did not seem to raise his voice, but somehow it was pitched to carry to the ends of the lines. Another effective trick, Miles thought; it reminded him of that habit of his father’s, of dropping his voice to a whisper when speaking in a rage. It locked attention.
CATEGORY: Character’s Thoughts, maybe Opportunity. I want a category for Impending Action.
EMOTIONAL RESONANCE WHY: Since the non-com is looking at him with contempt and challenge, plus he’s shivering and feels off balance, I’m immediately rooting for the main character. Miles doesn’t seem afraid or intimidated by him, so he also is a strong character, which appeals to me. I’m interested in the way Miles analyzes people-why does he want to know tricks of command? It hints at his goal or ambition and I can sympathize with someone who wants to better himself. The idea that he’s about to compete in some military-type competition catches my interest because I already want him to do well. I like science fiction and the reference to a ‘command panel’ tells me this is probably futuristic, and “Emperor Gregor’s reviews” gives me a sense of the culture.
WHAT CAN’T BE LEFT OUT: At first I thought the description of the non-com right at the start could be dropped. But as I analyzed the passage, I’m seeing the contrast and purpose of the character. I thought maybe the reference to his father could be left out, but it widens the reader’s perception of Miles to include a family which makes him even more sympathetic. Plus his father is important to the story, but we don’t know that yet.
YOU COULDN’T SEE outside the train windows at night; the conductor had opaqued them. Most people probably wouldn’t want to see out anyway. I looked around at the rest of the passengers in the car-I’d noticed when I got to my seat that I was the only one there who was under thirty years old. I’d seen flashes of fancy railcars like this in vids, and while waiting for track clearance at the Springs station, when I’d been down there with my Master. Stepping into the sleek silver tube with its rows of heavily padded blue-gray seats had felt unreal. As I covertly examined the people around me, in their clothing that was obviously not handmade, I wondered if they were trying to figure out why I had invaded their expensive, important world. They’d been studiously leaving me alone in that way that said they were curious but didn’t intend to actually say anything, while I stared at the reflections in the dark windows and wished I were back in my little room. Or maybe they already knew what I was. Master Kedo had told me on the drive down to the Springs station that all the personnel on the train were told about me, so maybe the passengers were too.
Now I was the only one still awake. Pretty much everyone else had their seats in the recline position, their cocoons on, and their privacy hoods over their heads and shoulders. It looked like a scene out of one of the drama-vids we watched now and again, the ones that turned up in the weekly mail. I didn’t care for them much, but my best friend, Kei, loved them, so I always sat through them without a complaint. That’s what friends do, right?
Well, okay, maybe some of them were watching their own selection of vids in there, but you couldn’t tell; they’d have their buds in and their glasses on. There was just row after row of reclined seats, skewed so no one quite had his head in someone else’s lap, each person bundled up tightly like a swaddled baby, with soft black mounds over the top halves. The cocoons were made of some fabric I’d never seen before, soft and plush, like kitten fur. I’d watched as they settled in for the night, and a lot of them had asked for Nightcaps. If something bad happened now, they would all die without ever knowing they’d been in danger.
CATEGORY: Travel, maybe Scene and Opportunity
WHY RESONATES WITH ME: She’s a fish out of water, in a place she’s never been, doesn’t want to be there, and she doesn’t fit in with the other passengers. She has a Master, what kind? Hopefully not a slave master. Hopefully one who teaches her, so she has a skill or knowledge that others may not have, and the Master felt the need to tell personnel “what” she was. There’s a possibility of danger with the feeling that she will watch for it. Maybe she will deal with it since she refuses to be swaddled. It’s really an ominous scene of all those other swaddled passengers. I want to know how she’ll deal with being in a new place and probably facing danger. I want to see what she is. The funny thing is that I usually skip over setting and description, but all the descriptions mean something. Just like they’re supposed to. 🙂
WHAT CAN’T BE LEFT OUT: I went through line by line but each one contributes. Even the line about the vids and her friend let you know a little about her status and what she’s leaving behind. The lines about the opaqued windows could be ominous or not, but it tells you there is technology and someone else is controlling it.
AH-HA MOMENT: I always want to start with action, but neither of these openings does that. Yet I’m intrigued, not bored. I always feel like setting and thoughts slow things down. But I’m comfortable with this pace and feel grounded in character and place in both of these openings. There are little hints of backstory but they’re quick and pertinent to what’s going on. Lots for me to absorb and learn.
Linnea: Sorry, I’m running behind. My mother’s funeral was on Friday and I’ve been in a mental fog much of the week.I have downloaded the lessons and will try to catch up.
So very sorry, Dori. Sending socially distanced hugs.
And proceeds to tell her client how horrible my house is.
I’m so sorry you had to deal with that. Why are some people such self-centered idiots?? And there’s you, racing around to get ready and having to swelter in your pjs. Grrr. (Oh, but we could make this into a great opening scene! murder? revenge? romance with the guy who spots you in your pjs?)
Ah, GAMES OF COMMAND. Lots of backstory on how that book came about, and if anyone is interested, we can discuss that in another thread.
Does anyone in class write prologues?
I used to. I loved them for adding danger/adventure before the everyday scenes. They’d be set years before the NOW or in space, rather than down on the mundane planet so you’d know it was sf, not realistic fiction. Sigh. All the advice said to get rid of them, so I ended up deleting them or incorporating them into the story. I expect you’ll tell me to make my openings better and I won’t need those prologues.
- This reply was modified 4 months, 2 weeks ago by rebecca.rector.