First Scenes Compared

Earlier this month I started typing out someone else’s novel — see part I of that series if you haven’t read it yet and want to know “why?!” or what my thoughts were as I might reference them below — and I’ve also been drafting my first snack-sized romance novel. Today, I’m reflecting a bit on the differences in the first scenes.

My novel’s first scene (in 1st draft stage) …

… is about 800 words. Theirs was about 2,875 words in length. Do I think mine needs more words? Theirs fewer? No, quality is not about word count, that’s just an easy way to make a quick comparison. Both get their points across, I think. I outlined and plotted my first scene to be around 688 words (as a certain percentage of the target final word count), but ~745 is what it ended up being. Of course, with it in the first draft stage I 100% reserve the right to change it. Completely. :0)

… has one character actively participating, one mother mentioned, two grandparents referenced, and an ex-spouse inferred due to mention of divorce and guilt, and a therapist friend’s advice mentioned. That’s six characters and only one named. Theirs involved six characters actively participating and eleven others mentioned by name. That’s seventeen named characters.  Do I think mine needs more characters? Theirs fewer? No for more in mine — this intro scene is something the character has to do alone, by and for herself. Maybe yes on the the “theirs fewer” part. Two-and-a-half weeks later and my head still spins thinking back to the character soup endured (yes, endured) in that first scene. But, doing “the math” they’d introduced 17 characters at the averaged rate of one every 170 words. Applying that same math to my scene and I’ve introduced a character every 134 words. Who’s made soup now?

… explains a lot. It sets the location (island), establishes the general age of the character by inference (~52-53), mentions her passion (astronomy), alludes to upcoming plans (making a mental task list of things to do before “event nights”), explains how she owns the property (inheritance from grandparents), mentions that she’s divorced (ex-spouse), exposes her wounds (layers of guilt, inability to commit) and shows that she’s a strong, independent woman who’s happy about her exciting new adventure in life. Theirs did a lot too. A lot.  Does either one cover everything in the first scene? No, of course not, otherwise we’d never need to read past that. We want enough to entice the reader to continue, but not too much. Theirs maybe overloaded that first scene. True, I knew a lot (a lot) about the upcoming story after that first scene, but did it really have to be info-dumped like it was? I think not.

So today I move on to my next scene. Do I continue with the first character? Do we learn why she immediately backed out the door she had just so confidently walked through? Or do we jump to the other main character and get introduced to him? Decisions, decisions. BTW, I have it all plotted out, scene by scene, but the order remains in flux (and changeable via Scrivener anytime I want with a quick drag-and-drop!). Besides, we all know that old saying, right?

Best laid plans of mice and plotters!