THE COLONY is a YA sci-fi. I have a couple questions here: Would it be stronger to get rid of the first paragraph? I feel like both the first and second would be strong begins, but I'm not sure I have the heart to cut the first one. A bigger issue for me is that these first three paragraphs are in present tense, and the rest of the book is in past. Never again do I go to narrator. Is that a huge No No, or can this work? Thanks for the help.
I think I would have spent my day differently, had I known it would be my last at Calical High. On the one hand, helping my friends pull a joke on the science teacher made for some great last-day memories. But there were so many things I wish I’d said to my friends. Things that didn’t include skeletons and wigs. My friends’ last prank went too far. It started out harmless—even funny, although I wouldn’t have admitted that to them. Honestly, I wasn’t in love with the idea from the beginning, but only because my friends would probably get into trouble. I didn’t think anyone would die because of it. That’s not fair. It wasn’t their fault. But what if things had been different? Would more of us have survived? I try not to think about that. I want to remember the good parts of that day, not the bad stuff.
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I just took a writing class and switching tenses is okay as long as it's seamless to the reader, and of course used sparingly and because it’s necessary or it provides the desired effect. To me, using present tense at first is as if the character is sitting with me in the moment. She switches to past tense to tell me the story that happened in the past. I think the second paragraph raises more questions that make me want to read on, and create suspense since I really want to find out what prank they pulled. You could weave the exposition that’s in the first paragraph into the next one. Or later.
I'm most curious about the prank too. My suspense level is low though, because the narration tells me about the prank without unfolding the action of it. I'm projecting what the prank is and it's outcomes, too. The prank is an inciting event, the event that causes the other events told in this opening: last day at Calical, possible deaths, and their fallouts.
The picture this opening paints for me is of a writer sitting at a keyboard documenting the writer's thoughts in an after-action debriefing. I'd be more invested and want to read on if the action of the prank was more in the now moment of the prank and, rather than being told the prank circumstances, if they were implied.
I'm not fond of rhetorical questions either: "But what if things had been different? Would more of us have survived?" When rhetorical questions tell (summarize and explain) suspense questions, also known as dramatic questions, my imagination doesn't have very much work to do. Engaging readers imaginations draws them into a narrative and forward.
If soon after this opening, the storyline loops back into the past and shows the circumstances leading up to the prank and the prank and its fallouts and outcomes, this opening might be a tautology, a prepositioned repetition of the action to come. Beginning the opening with those prank scenes I feel would be stronger.
The challenges of openings are mostly introducing central characters, their dramatic complications, and doing so in a manner that incites readers' empathy and curiosity. One potent method is to just start in the moment, place, and situation of the emerging dramatic action and the narrator and characters experience its emergence along with readers.
A starting scene for the opening might be answering why the science teacher deserves to be pranked. That to me, from what's given, might be a first cause and at least a bridging dramatic complication that sets up the prank, all the action to come, and its outcomes. Is the science teacher cruel? for example. Unfair? Harsh? But endearing in subtle ways too? If the science teacher is partly empathy-worthy, too, the tragedies of the prank are heightened and not just a flat, one-sided event.
Recently, I had cause to glance at the opening lines of every fiction book in my library. One of the things that all of them had in common (although treated vastly differently from story to story) was that every author opened nearly every story by firmly establishing either character or milieu (setting). On rare occasions, they would open in medias res at the moment the inciting incident (the reason for the story) occurred.
And this is the challenge the author faces: to create a compelling opening without a dramatic opening. In this case, I mean without action, colour and movement. In their place, I would suggest flavour, ambiance or intrigue. The really hard part is to do this in just thirteen lines and, given my observations of what is offered here, if it don't go boom right orf, no one will like it.
Perhaps a gross generalisation, but true none-the-less.
Thanks for all the great ideas--so helpful. I tried to incorporate them in this new version. Any thoughts are this are also very much appreciated.
My friend’s last prank was wicked awesome, right up until kids started dying. It started out as a joke on Mr. Simpson the science teacher. There’s nothing wrong with Mr. Simpson, I mean he’s not mean or anything. Boring, yes, but it’s not like we hated him or he deserved anything bad. He just happened to be the owner of Muriel the Skeleton. Jaxon came up with its name, and he’d been obsessed with that hanging pile of bones—real bones by the way, which I thought was totally disgusting—since Mr. Simpson brought it in at the beginning of the year. “Prime punking material,” Jaxon called it.
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