Here is my last opening scene prompt to wrap up January’s theme of beginnings. The instructions for it are the same as last week’s prompt. Write down your first impressions of this photo for characters, setting, and plot. Then use those impressions to write an opening scene for a story.
Workers on their way home
People bundled against the cold
Everyone looks alike
The world is gray
A worker is depressed.
A worker is frustrated with the every day dullness of routine.
A worker wants to break free.
Here’s my opening:
If I don’t make a change soon …
I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, my left boot sliding on a patch of ice hidden under the charcoal-streaked snow.
People, workers leaving their jobs like me, bundled to their eyes against the freezing weather, trudged past, heads bent. Were they watching for slick spots or could think of no reason to lift their gaze?
Fat flakes drifted from a putty-colored sky. Even if enough snow fell to cover all the dirt, it wouldn’t change the fact that underneath, the snow was stained, spoiled.
I turned my face to the sky, the flakes brushing against my skin on their way to oblivion. That’s where I felt I was heading.
It’s always fun to introduce to a new author here at JPC Allen Writes. My guest blogger Madisyn Carlin releases her first novel, Deceived, on April 25 and offers tips for the writer beginning to wade into the unknown waters of writing his or her first novel.
I arrived late to the writing scene. Instead of being bitten by the storytelling bug in my early years, I finally decided to apply imagination to paper at age sixteen. With some hefty encouragement from my mom, a homeschool assignment to write a novel in a year, and a vague idea that came from nowhere, I set out to see if I could be a writer.
I learned something within the first few chapters. Writing your first novel—and seeing it to completion—is not as easy as it sounds.
Dear writer, you will experience setbacks, writer’s block, disappointments, discouragement, and, perhaps, even the temptation to give up and call it quits. When that happens, here are five methods to help you see your novel to completion.
I know it’s exciting to watch those words appear on the screen or on paper, but don’t run headlong into writing. First, spend time in prayer. Pray God will guide you as you write and that the words you write are for His glory. Dedicate your story to Him.
Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men”. Write your book with the anticipation of creating a product that will glorify God. This will help keep you from worrying about potential criticisms and the fact not everyone will like your story.
There are two basic types of writers. The plotter and the panster. The plotter details their story through outlines, meticulously writing their story from beginning to end—in that order. The panster writes scenes and chapters out of order and returns to piece them together. Determine which type you are.
During what time of day do you have the most inspiration? Nighttime? Daytime? Afternoon? Midday? Are you an early bird or the night owl? Furthermore, what provides inspiration? Going on a walk and letting your mind wander? Listening to music? Looking at pictures? Does another hobby, like baking, yardwork, or exercise, give you bursts of ideas? Find what provides inspiration and utilize it. This will not only keep your mind limber and ready to write, but it will help lessen writer’s block.
Find Bible verses, pictures, music, settings, colors, quotes, and more that inspire you. Create a mood board or aesthetic. This can be done by pasting pictures and links into a writing document or using photo editors/collage creators. Refer to this daily; definitely just before you begin writing. If you like to draw, sketch your characters. If you like graphic design, create a mock cover.
This goes without saying. After you’ve sufficiently prepared yourself using the three aforementioned steps, sit down and write. Focus on your story and let the creativity flow. Don’t edit as you write. There will be time for that later.
Five: Never Give Up
It’s said the only guarantees in life are death and taxes. For the writer, one more thing is added to the list: writing struggles. These include, but are not limited to, writer’s block, discouragement, disappointments, and outside distractions. Sometimes, these tempt us to give up on our novel. When those struggles come, and they will, endure. Push on. Fight for your story. Don’t give up on the dream God has planted in your heart.
Writing is an adventure. You never know where your characters and plot will take you. As you embark on this journey, remember first and foremost that you are writing for God, and second, that you can do this.
Thank you so much, Madisyn, for your words of encouragement. It’s something every writer needs!
In a land built upon lies and deception, uncovering the truth can be deadly.
Therese Westa is sick of death, but taking lives is what provides for her younger sisters. When a client approaches her with an unusual request, Therese takes the job offer, which includes the condition of “no questions asked”. As Therese uncovers the reason for the request, she is faced with a choice: kill an innocent man or save her sisters.
Therese’s hesitation to carry out the assassination thrusts her into the aftermath of a dangerous chain of events. Caught between security and truth, Therese must choose where her loyalties lie, for the answer will determine who survives.
Madisyn Carlin is a Christian, homeschool graduate, blogger, voracious bookdragon, and author. When not spending time with her family or trekking through the mountains, she weaves tales of redemption, faith, and action.
This week’s photo prompt combines all the ones from the last three weeks. Instead of focusing either on characters, settings, or plot, write down your first impressions of this photo for all three. Then use those impressions to write an opening scene for a story.
Two girls, not older than ten
Wearing summer clothes
One girl is holding summer flowers, the other maybe leaves or a turtle
Look enough alike to be sisters or cousins
The one on the left looks slightly older
In the woods or in a park
Paved path or road
Girls are comfortable in setting
The girls are making up from a fight
The older girl is telling the younger one about something she saw
They are chatting while they wait for something
The older girl is suggesting something to do
Here’s my opening:
My cousin Lucy and me sat on the empty road. We wouldn’t get squished. Nobody used the road any more except hunters in the fall and winter. The road was a little warm because the sun ooched between the branches of the tall maples and sycamores.
I stroked the baby turtle I’d found near the car where the man and woman were arguing. I said, “I wished they’d leave.”
Lucy wiped some hair away from her mouth. “I know. We can’t play Princess Rescue with grown-ups around.” She tilted her head, listening, so I did too.
I heard a kind of buzzing but it wasn’t bees. But I wasn’t sure if it was the man and woman talking either.
Lucy looked at the asters in her hand. “Do you recognize those people?”
“Nope. Nobody ever comes around here since Old Mr. Hardy died and nobody works his farm.”
A scream made me and Lucy jump up. Then it got real quiet, creepy quiet.
I stepped closer to Lucy. “Was that a happy scream or a scared scream?”
Introducing characters at the beginning of a story can be tricky. If not done well, it will sink your narrative before it’s had a chance to take off.
Too Many Characters
My mystery A Shadow on the Snow has a lot of characters. My main character Rae lives in a county not only full of suspects but also crammed with relatives and friends. So as not to overwhelm readers, I introduce most of them in groups of two or three per a chapter and spread the introductions of most of the important characters over the first nine chapters.
To Describe or Not to Describe
New writers make the mistake of dumping all description of characters and a lot of their backstory into the beginning. Not only does this slow the story or grind it to a halt, it also removes almost all of the interest in the characters. Readers like to get to know characters over the course of the story.
Opposite to this problem is the one where the characters are barely described or not at all. I’ve found this practice much more common in current books In books offering writing advice, I’ve read that authors don’t need to provide descriptions of characters because readers can build an image from the characters’ actions and conversations. In the case of the main character, they also use his or her thoughts and feelings.
Maybe some readers can do that, but I can’t. I began a romantic suspense novel that opened with three male and three female characters. The author provided names and that was it. Their actions were standard cop scenarios. Because my imagination had so little to go on, the characters were either fuzzy or kept morphing. Well into the story, I received a few crumbs of description for the main characters but by that time, I didn’t care and quit reading. The characters never seemed more than names on a page. If I couldn’t see them as real people, I couldn’t relate to them.
Use Real Life as Guide
So what’s enough description but not too much when introducing characters? One way to approach it is to think about what you notice about a person when you first meet him or her. I pick up on the obvious, such as gender, skin tone, hair color and style, and build. As I speak to him or her, I noticed smaller details like eye color, facial features and idiosyncrasies of speech and mannerisms.
Now I can’t include all of that for every characters. So I distill descriptions to what I call the 1-2 punch. I select the two to three most important features of a character, especially those that will set him or her apart from other characters. Then, if I can come up with it, I try to include a punch–a vivid comparison that sums up the character’s appearance.
When I introduced Rae’s youngest brother, Micah, I sprinkled in description as Rae and their father talk to him. I first mention that he’s a first-grader. Then I mention how “his strawberry blond hair glowed peach in the light from the ceiling fixture”. The punch is the last line of the paragraph: “How could I turn down a request from someone who was as cute as a Christmas elf?”
If the character appears again, I can add finer details like mannerisms.
What do you prefer? No description, some descriptions, or detailed descriptions of characters?
For this week’s prompt, use the above photo as a plot story starter. I always find inspiration for plots from my characters and settings. Using the same technique I suggested for the character story starter and the setting story starter, write down what you observe about this photo without analyzing it too closely.
My observations are:
Two elderly men
Could be chatting, could be arguing
Looks cold, they’re wearing warm clothes
The bicycle and hats make me think European
Here’s my opening to a story:
I heard them before I saw them.
Mort and Lester’s raised voices could be heard a block away this early in the morning when most citizens were just crawling out of bed. Every morning, except one, since I’d taken the job as a security guard at the university, the two old men would meet at the corner of 12th and Broad Street and usually end up yelling at each other and stalking away. After a night on patrol, I really didn’t want to listen to another confrontation. Not that they paid much attention to me. All my “Good mornings” had been met with grunts. I called them Mort and Lester because they reminded me of my grandpa and his brother. But Gramps and Uncle Lester didn’t cuss each other out every time they met.
I ducked down the alley between the empty house and the pawn shop. The voices died away. They were probably stalking away now.
As I stepped onto the sidewalk on Townes Street, a shout reached me. I jerked toward it, then picked up my pace. It had sort of sounded like one of the old men, but the cry seemed more like a shout of surprise. And not a pleasant one.
I reached 12th Street, looked to the intersection with Broad, and ran. Mort, the one who always pushed a bicycle, lay on the ground moaning. Lester was nowhere in sight.