Here is the opening to Terra Swarm
“Where am I?” Linien mumbled, his eyes struggling to see where he was. The buffeting of the room rattled his view of the few clearly lit things he could see. Then, a figure dressed in yellow moved into view.
“Stay put Linien. You’re waking too early.” the female voice said, a tremble and urgency in her every word. “I’m Perfidia. Just stay where you are for now. I’m strapping you to your bed. The ship is going through a meteorite field at velocity. We need to slow down.”
Perfidia ran out of the room and straight onto the ship’s bridge, the stronger light levels streamed back into the medical bay. Linien looked around and could just about make out three empty beds, a huge volume of medical equipment, robotic arms and medication.
The above 132 words is the opening paragraphs from my novel Terra Swarm.
I’m a firm believer in a strong opening so these paragraphs were critical to get right.
Getting to Writing These First Words
Before writing the above I had already
- Outlined a trilogy of books (this was the first)
- Designed the character arc for each character in this novel
- Written a short summary of each chapter in the novel as a 3-act piece (intro, middle, payoff).
So you see… even before a single word was written I had already mapped out to a great extent where the book was to go, with the emotional payoff of each scene.
Then the radical bit… I removed the first chapter!
YES, originally there was to be more information to set up where this new environment is (a spaceship going through a meteorite field).
In writing film screenplays, this is referred to as Setting Up the Ordinary World. It makes the transition to the Special World of the story more noticeable.
But I chose to omit that exposition.
You see, I wanted to throw the reader into the story, just as Linien is thrown into wondering where he is. This way, the reader identifies with my main protagonist from the first sentence.
Also, modern readers are smart. You don’t need to hand hold people through extravagant setups & story backgrounds… the readers imaginations will welcome the workout and fill in the blanks admirably. The above paragraphs give you all the kernels of information you need:
Linien, buffeting, yellow blur, female, Perfidia, tremble, meteorite field, medical bay, ships bridge, empty beds, robotic arms
The Choice of Dialogue
Opening with the phrase ‘Where am I?’ is very deliberate.
- For starters, readers are thinking precisely that as they read a new novel.
- Secondly, it becomes a catchphrase for these space explorers as each is awoken. This question is a hint at what their inner journey is.
Next, the sentences are kept very short. This mirrors the urgency of the situation (going through a meteorite field).
Finally, the language is very visual. I’m painting a picture of where Linien & Perfidia are (a futuristic medical bay on a spaceship) and even what they are wearing (Perfidia as a ‘yellow blur’).
This approach may not work in every genre but giving your readers more credit is essential. Reducing the fluff in a story, even if that means butchering chapters, should always be considered if you need to maintain a stories tempo.