An Opening Scene
In an opening scene, I want to be dropped into the moment, visualize the setting, get a sense for the character, and be hooked (made curious) about what’s to come.
I’ve done those things below, but this scene needs work on both tone and style. It lacks a sassy opening sentence, and the opening paragraph is weak. But it covers what an opening scene should cover, and it includes a lot of information, including:
- Character mindset
- Initial Goal/Conflict
- Timeline (since last book)
- Hook/Questions Raised
Scene 001 (Version One)
Jessica Warne stood up at her desk, stretched her arms overhead, and yawned. Anticipation warmed her body and made her limbs tingle. Today was the day! Five months of effort had brought her to this moment, and her victory was close at hand.
It was ten in the morning, and she’d slept poorly the night before, but Jessica’s sleepy posture was a lie, a deception so second-nature that she offered it up without thinking. Standing gave her a better view of the room, and yawning gave her an excuse to stand. It was that simple. She swept her gaze across the engineering team, reading their non-verbal cues with the intensity of a shark scenting blood.
Her questions required answers. Was anyone behaving oddly? Was there any talk of a late-night bug bash? Who was frowning today, and were those frowns out of character? Normally she wouldn’t care about the small dramas of the workplace, but today there could be no distractions. Her target, Tony Glass, had a specific path to walk, and it was her job to keep him focused. Thankfully, nothing seemed out of place that morning. Engineers sat at their desks either writing code or staring blankly at their screens. An intern across the aisle cracked open an energy drink. The carbonated hiss slid through the air like a knife, and disappeared into the general din comprised of key presses, mouse clicks, and quiet chatter between colleagues.
To Jessica, the offices of Chrysalis Systems resembled a chessboard. Software engineers sat in the center, while team leaders occupied taller desks at strategic positions around the room. Psychologically, the leads operated like sentries, watchful and ready to swoop down whenever productivity flagged. Product managers moved laterally across the space, cutting between teams at will, and demanding changes without warning. Even amongst so-called equals there was a hierarchy. Database engineers had nicer chairs, bigger monitors, and newer machines, while less important people were seated near the bathrooms, far away from the communal whiteboards where decisions were made.
Only executives had private offices, which was ironic, given how often they lauded the benefits of the open workspace. To an introvert (and most of the engineers were introverts) an open office was a cluttered hellscape, full of interruptions, noises, and unwanted smells. But they pretended to like it, because management said they should.
Hypocrisy was everywhere in corporate America. Everyone lied, to each other and especially to themselves. If anyone at Chrysalis found out why Jessica was there, they’d freak out, and possibly call the FBI. But they were no better than her. Everyone lies at work, it’s just that some lies are more profitable than others.
Jessica sat down, reassured for the moment that no trouble was brewing. She checked her boss’s calendar to make sure that the meeting was still there and confirmed for 6pm. It was. Before Glass attended that meeting, she had one more nudge to give him, but she’d wait until the lunch break. Spycraft required performance, and Jessica’s acting skills had much improved during her first year at the agency. Still, this was a performance meant for an audience of one, and the fewer people around, the better.
I’ll re-read this scene tomorrow, tweak it if I’m ready, and move to the next. I did a lot of throat-clearing in my first draft, so I’m streamlining the narrative and moving directly into action as much as possible.