I brought the new opening chapter to writers’ group and they really liked it. The new version of is more interesting, shorter, and most importantly it focuses on telling the damn story instead of cramming in all the things I wanted to say. So I’m writing this down so I can remember the lesson.
My first version of Scene 001 was BORING. When I get stuck on “fixing” a piece of writing, sometimes it’s difficult for me to see that instead of fixing it I should chuck it. When your nose is up to the glass boring is difficult to see.
Advice to future me: When you’re banging your head against a wall, step away from the wall. Are you polishing the wrong thing? Is it boring? Go for a walk and think about it, or ask someone else for feedback.
Scene 001 (Version 2)
Jessica Warne’s fingers flew over the keyboard at 110 words per minute while she discreetly swept her gaze across the engineering team. The open office sprawled out in front of her like a chessboard. She knew every piece, player, and movement by heart. She was working undercover on behalf of the Duke Agency with the goal of controlling one man, Tony Glass, the VP of Engineering. But before you can capture the king, you’ve gotta control his environment. So she watched, and she waited.
Today there could be no surprises. Tony had a specific path to walk, and it was up to her to keep him on track. Employee drama or a customer emergency might throw him off course, tempting him to cancel the meeting she’d worked so hard to facilitate. To Jessica’s relief, nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Software engineers sat in the center of the workspace, while team leaders occupied taller desks placed in strategic positions around the room. The leads were like sentries, watchful and ready to swoop down whenever productivity flagged. Product managers moved laterally across the space, cutting between teams, demanding changes to the product without warning. Even among so-called equals you could tell who mattered and who didn’t. The database engineers had nicer chairs, bigger monitors, and newer machines, while less important employees were seated near the bathrooms, and far away from the communal whiteboards where decisions were made.
Hierarchy was everywhere, if you knew where to look.
Tony was tucked away in his private office at the edge of the open workspace, and he kept his door open because he wanted to seem approachable. Appearances were important to him. Tony Glass was forty-five, athletic, and surprisingly easy to manipulate. Most people were, once you understood what their hearts wanted most. What Tony craved was to be seen as an inspirational leader, like Richard Branson, the kind of person that the younger employees at Chrysalis could look up to.
According to Dana Duke, Jessica’s boss, their client wanted Tony to arrive at dinner in a particular state of mind. It wasn’t enough that he showed up for the meet, they needed him talkative. Honest. Ready to hash out the conflict. So Jessica needed to deliver one more nudge.
The morning went by smoothly. As the hands of the wall clock swept forward, Jessica performed the tasks that came her way with warmth and efficiency. Supplies needed ordering, invoices needed payment, and the UX team wanted a different caterer for their focus groups.
Who would suspect an assistant of being a spy? No one, that’s who. To them, she was just another administrative worker hired on contract. Temps were like sex workers. Use them to scratch your itches then shoo them out into the street when the moment was over. No loyalty, no benefits, and no commitment required. The Duke Agency found it easier than ever to place operatives where they needed them.
By one thirty the office had mostly emptied out, and it was time for Jessica to make her move. But one of the interns, Bill, was stubbornly sitting at a desk nearby, writing code with an intensity usually reserved for those defusing a bomb. A thin trickle of sweat ran down his temple, and he paused, rummaging in his desk drawer. Jessica’s heart lifted. Was he leaving? She didn’t want an audience. But no, he was just getting an energy drink. He opened it with one fingernail. A carbonated hiss slid through the air, followed by a chemical fruity smell, like childrens’ vitamins gone stale.
Jessica grit her teeth. Should she send him away on an errand? There were thin white cords snaking out of his ears, they trailed down into the pocket of his navy blue hoodie. His head bobbed slightly to his music. Bill the intern probably wasn’t listening, and that was good enough for her. If she did her job well, no one would find this conversation significant, anyway.
The recycle bin she’d moved the day prior was still in position directly across from Tony’s open door, a short distance from her desk. The magazine was in front of her, the relevant article marked with a purple paperclip. After mentally rehearsing her gambit one more time she opened the magazine to the correct spot; it was time. She’d nudge Tony toward compliance, then get him to his meeting. And once it was all over, she’d pocket a bonus large enough to pay off a third of her student loan debt. Excitement made her heart race and her limbs tingle. God, I love this job, she thought.
Jessica pretended to read the magazine. She formed her face into an irritated expression and flipped the pages as noisily as she could. After a suitable pause, she let out a frustrated sigh designed to prick up Tony’s ears. Then she stood up, holding the magazine out at arms length like it smelled bad, and marched it over to the recycle bin, where she dropped it onto the plastic bottom with a thump. “Good riddance,” she muttered. Then she paused. Having put out the hook, it was up to Tony to bite down. But would he?
This version is far better than the first, but it needs style edits. Did you notice the places where I started several sentences with the same word, or where the rhythm of the language fell flat? I did, and I’ll address those points in the next iteration.