Take a scene I worked on last night. My protagonist Annie needs to wrestle some information from a regiment of ghost cavalry soldiers who perform with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Annie used to work on the show but has since gone her own way, and returning to stomping grounds both familiar and changed makes her apprehensive. After the turning point, she ends the scene in a more confident, determined place, which in turn sets the tone for her going into the climax.
In a novel, I might have the luxury of a few paragraphs to establish Annie's opening frame of mind. In a short story, not so much. The scene's first sentence has to do a lot of heavy lifting. The question I've been dealing with today: How do I show her frame of mind? I have to dig into my own experience. (Write what you know.) I've never been part of a traveling show, but I have left a place I belonged in, moved on with my life and returned for a visit later on: my old high school or a newsroom where I used to work. It's a weird and uncomfortable experience. There's a feeling of, "Hi, we're glad to see you, but what the hell are you doing here?" In Annie's case, that unease sets up an antagonistic reception from the ghosts whom she needs to get on her side.
I've written several openings using various metaphors, but I'm sorry to say I haven't nailed it yet. I'll know it the moment I do.
Bits and pieces:
- Two days until the season premiere of Doctor Who, which means you can't go onto a science-fiction website without stumbling across an article. My favorites today: Damn Yankees and the Doctor and an interview with Alex Kingston (i.e. River Song).
- Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith in the Doctor Who universe) died yesterday.
- According to the Terminator mythology, Skynet has become self-aware and attacked humankind. Watch out!
- Chuck fans launch the annual Save the Show campaign, this year on Twitter and dubbed "We Give a Chuck." Love those guys.
- The Art and Soul of POV. One of the best things I've read on point of view.
- Finalists and semi-finalists in quarter 1 for Writers of the Future, which is to say, all the fine writers who placed higher than me. Congrats!