Revising My WIP
Writing First and Final Scenes
Yes. I can’t end my story if I don’t know how it began. And I can’t begin my story if I don’t know how to end it.
Remember…we are revising, right? We have our entire WIP done, and all we need to do is figure out these two scenes.
Haven’t you read books, gotten through the last scene and felt empty? Let’s assume the ending had something to do with the story, and wasn’t just tacked on. The problem may be that the first and final scenes aren’t connected and our subconscious is screaming for closure.
So…let’s look at first scenes, last scenes, and how they work together…or don’t.
What Am I Trying To Do In An Opening Scene
Opening a First Scene is tricky because we have nothing to refer to.
Only…that isn’t quite true.
We have an author’s name, story title, and cover. It’s not much, but if we got them to open the book, our first paragraph better lure them into the second paragraph.
So, how do we hook them?
Get our Main Character on stage as quickly as we can, like the first paragraph. Since I write in Third Person, I call her by name. Do I spend any time describing her physical appearance, or how she got there? Nope.
Push her into that the First Scene Situation as soon as we can. The first paragraph is not too soon to do this.
The First Scene Situation is something confronting our MC, right from the beginning. It should be something mysterious, threatening or difficult that requires our MC to deal with, right now.
Is it the story question? Nope. That will pop up about half way through Part One, and our MC will decide to take it on at the end of Part One. But, our First Scene Situation should be related, in some way, to the Story Question.
We immediately learn something about our Main Character by how she reacts. We are inviting our readers to learn more about her, feel a little uneasy about her situation, and begin to like her.
We need to keep the reader turning the pages through the middle.
Our Main Character spends the rest of the First Scene trying to cope with the First Scene situation, and that is how we come to know her, and start to care about her.
If we build tension, and get her emotional and physical reactions before turning the heat up, we bring readers along for the ride. On the other hand, if we jump straight to the cliff edge, readers will likely roll their eyes and move on to the next book on the reading list.
We should go light on setting description unless it contributes heavily to the First Scene Situation. If the house is burning down, it’s part of the situation. But, if she’s just rattling around in it. I hate stories where writers do a 5,000 word info dump in the first scene. I hate it when they do 1,000 or 500 or 100. Just don’t do it. We have an entire book to roll out our world.
Forget characterization and backstory. Just let your MC get through her first scene. We can show who she is and why she’s here later. We have over 100,000 words.
Work in foreshadowing and themes without explanation. Use them to set up future scenes. Create an expectation and mystery for readers. Draw them in.
How fast paced does the scene have to be? Our First Scene doesn’t have to be all action. But…we need lots of emotional content, complete with tension, suspense, and every other writerly trick without being melodramatic. Keep readers wondering what will happen next to this mysterious stranger they are coming to know.
Ending a First Scene means inviting them to turn the page.
Whatever you do, do not solve the First Scene Situation, or let your MC make a major decision. Carry the tension forward into future scenes as a connecting thread. If ever we needed a cliff hanger, we need it now.
That means our MC should be in at least a little trouble. She understands something isn’t right with her perfect little world, putting her on edge. Guess what? This is as comfortable as she’s going to get. It’s going to be a bumpy right to the end.
Toss in some foreshadowing, vague hints, using setting, actions, or thoughts.
What Am I Trying To Do In A Closing Scene
We want to end in a quiet and reflective mood. We answered the story question with our Climax, and wrapped up everyone except the MC in the Denouement. Now we have to end it for our MC.
Our setting is important. Make sure to ground our readers.
Our MC reflects on everything that happened in the last 120,000 words.
We launch into the middle.
Our pace is slow and low-key. We need to bring the reader back down.
One big job is to show how we answered the story question, not tell. We’ve written about her journey for 100,000 words so we should have plenty of material to work with.
We can have four possible outcomes, and we are the writer, so we get to decide:
(1) Our MC got what she wanted…and what she needed.
(2) Our MC got what she wanted…but it wasn’t what she needed.
(3) Our MC didn’t get what she wanted…but got what she needed.
(4) Our MC didn’t get what she wanted…and didn’t get what she needed.
Another big job is to show how our character changed. I will come back to this.
We end our story with THE END.
Our final sentence sums up our entire story. As we capture the meaning of our story, our character:
(1) Performs some small gesture.
(2) Says something, directly expressing their thoughts and feelings.
(3) Focuses on some object.
How Do Openings and Closing Work Together?
The first and final scenes should counterpoint each other.
Our settings should help tell us what happened.
We might use the same setting with changes to it.
Or…we might use different scenes which show how everything change.
Who the MC is with should say something about what changed.
Maybe she is still with the same people, but something has happened to one or more of them.
Or…maybe she is with new people.
Or…maybe she is alone in one or the other.
The MC’s first and final images should be different. I’ve read that, when actors consider a movie script, they read the first and final scenes to discover how the character changed. If they like what they see they will read more of the script. If they don’t see changes, or don’t like them, they move on.
Our MC’s external changes should be clear, and help explain what happened in the story. Maybe they are older, injured or healed, wear something different, or have different objects around them.
Our MC’s internal changes should also be evident. This one is much harder, especially if we build characters like I do. My MC has a:
Moral core which guides everything she does – Socially Aware.
Achievement layer is how she approaches her inner world – Honorable.
Interactive layer is how she approaches her external world – Confident.
Identity layer is how she interacts with people – Charming.
Flaws – Pride and Superstition.
With so many facets, can we show all the changes? Nope. Instead, we pick one or two instances that were crucial in her journey. Since she overcame her Pride and Superstition to triumph in the Climax, I focused on Honor, and how profoundly her inner world changed. Is it easy? Nope.
How did I do?
I’m reasonably happy with my First Scene, but I’m sure it’s as good as it can be.
And, I’m still getting used to my Final Scene. I need to research endings more before I call it good. I’m wondering if another trip to the library to pull random books and look at how published writers end their stories might help me.
I’m sure my sweep through the character arcs will help me with my first and final images.
I I need to smooth out my Characterization, but I’m still working out the best approach.