Unsatisfied desire is in itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. -C. S. Lewis
Attempting to conceive the breadth of my enormous first draft feels like trying to hold ten goopy pounds of pizza dough in my arms. Little important bits and pieces keep slipping out of my grasp and dripping in doughy balls to the floor.
To tackle this, I’m putting the entire pile of pizza dough down and placing a small amount on the table in front of me to shape.
Bad food metaphors aside, (and for clarification purposes) I’m looking at my first scene with a microscope. How can I use this scene to really grab the reader/agent/editor’s attention? Every author has their own weaknesses. I don’t know if “first scenes” are one of mine, but I do know I tend to obsess over them until I find, weeks later, that first scene is all I’ve worked on.
Much like this build up.
Above, Lewis gives us the rule of suspense, something every author should be somewhat familiar with. The question is how to effectively build suspense when you are working with a blank slate.
On those first couple pages, your potential agent or editor knows nothing. That gives us, the writer, a bit of a challenge. We’ve got to pique their interest, make them care, and most of all, convince them to turn the page. (I’m focusing on agents and editors because readers will usually be going into your story after reading a summary and seeing your very professional and beautiful cover art.)
The first scene I am the most proud of began its life as a flashback. I loved my flashback. I thought it was gripping, emotional, intense, and exploited all the feelings I felt as I wrote it.
I was wrong. I didn’t like to hear it, but my flashback on page one didn’t work because my reader didn’t care about the characters. So a little girl watches her dad being taken to jail, leaving her to care for her younger sister. So what? That happens to a lot of people. Hardly anyone escapes their childhood without some emotional scarring.
What was interesting was who that little girl became when she grew up. A successful art curator, a maneater, a controlling older sister. Those are the qualities I displayed in the first few pages, and that was what made her interesting.
Then I was able to take my detailed backstory and ratchet up the suspense, the anticipation, by hinting at it, but leaving the reader with Lewis’s “unsatisfied desire”.
What are some ways you made a first scene really work for you?