Still sorting out some of the technical difficulties on this end; evidently I opened some kind of 55-gallon drum of engineering worms at my Web host. Anyway, I can still blog; I've just been paying attention to other things in the interim. So, today's subject: opening scenes.
This past week I dug back up some movies that are, in some way, a touchstone or source of inspiration for the new book (Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned). It's a wild bag: GoodFellas, Blade and Blade II, Strange Days, and Space is the Place. Actually, the last one I didn't rewatch because I no longer have a copy of it; I had to settle for digging up my notes on the film and re-reading those. But the rest got at least a re-watch of the first 20-30 minutes, and a big part of that was me looking for a way to kick things off in my story.
Looking for an action hook isn't the main thing, although I admit I love an action-oriented cold opening for a story. Rather, I'm thinking about at what point in the plot, and from what direction, do we approach the goings-on. GoodFellas opens in medias res with the main characters finishing up a mob killing that has gone horribly wrong, and uses that as brutally ironic contrast to Henry Hill telling us that as far back as he can remember, he always wanted to be a gangster — it's just that it's likely he never imagined himself helping murder a made man (and then having to dig up the partly decomposed dead body months later, bleearrgh!). Strange Days opens with a first-person demonstration of the SQUID experience-recording device, the MacGuffin around which the story revolves, as a criminal hothead uses it to tape a holdup and gets killed in the process. Blade has that eye-popping nightclub sequence that gives us both the vampire underworld and the man waging a one-person war against them.
Each of these is a nod towards what I'm trying to do: set up a world with connections to our but arguably very different, with its own rules (and severe penalties for breaking them), and give us a character who is part of this world, knows it intimately well, but is in some ways at hard odds with it. I have to be prepared to be patient -- Flight of the Vajra's opening sequence was scrapped and rewritten something like six times before I finally found the way in that worked for me, and even then I wasn't satisfied; it was only through a good opening line — "I went dancing with my wife the night she died" — that I felt like the right mood had also been established — one where I started with a particular person and his particular case, and not a whole galaxy or the whole of mankind. (There are a lot of reasons I'm unhappy with the way that book turned out, but that isn't one of them.)
With some stories, elements suggest themselves immediately: how to open up, where to go, what it's all about. This hasn't been one of those stories so far, but that's not a reason for despair.