Tags: science fiction, setup, writing
Yes! I’m back! You may have been wondering if I’d been sucked into the cyber-ether. Or not. It’s been kind of a long time since I last posted. But I’m back!
So. I was watching X-men: The Last Stand the other night—I know, I know, a bit behind the times on my movies. It’s a little embarrassing. (You know I’ve seen Wolverine, though.) Last Stand was enjoyable, if not a tad predictable.
As they were huddled on the island, trying to figure out how stop Magneto, I knew, without any doubts, that Wolverine was going to ask …the big guy (was that Colossus?) to throw him at Magneto. Did it happen? Yup, just like that.
And it was supposed to.
Movies, novels: Opening scene’s main job is Set Up
Thanks to Larry Brooks at storyfix.com, I pay attention to movies now. A movie and a novel tell stories in different ways, but they follow the same rules. Yes, watching a movie is like homework for a writer!
At the end of Last Stand, when Wolverine asked to be tossed at Magneto, that wasn’t the first time. The movie opens with a practice session (in a holographic room, so you think they’re in a real fight). The students struggle to face the enemy, and Wolverine asks Colossus (the Big Guy) to throw him. After the class, Storm chews him out and declares that the students aren’t ready for a fight like that.
This opening scene does a few things, but its main job is to set up that final battle move. When Wolverine pulls out that move at the end, it doesn’t come out of nowhere. You also get some character change: the students successfully fight, proving that they are ready. And a nice coming-full-circle sense to the whole thing.
A scene must have a purpose
Viewers may see that scene as just a cool opener, but it has a real purpose. If this is the only thing you learn as a writer, you’ll be a better one: Every scene must move the story forward. Setting up or foreshadowing later events is a vital function of early scenes in your novel.
Don’t have your hero getting himself thrown at the villain if he’s never done that, or breaking out martial arts moves she hasn’t demonstrated, or using knowledge of the stock market if he’s never talked about it. Set up. Foreshadow.
Don’t forget setting
If you set your climax scene in a brand new place, you’re going to eat up time and pacing with description you might want to spend on an argument, some karate moves, or tossing your hero at the villain. Arrange an earlier scene at that location or have a character pass by. Especially if you have a fast-paced climax scene that would be slowed by setting details.
The only danger in bringing an element from your opener into your climax scene is in how closely you replicate the scene. If it’s exactly like your opener, as it is in Last Stand, your reader will see it coming. Be careful.
Ask yourself as you write every scene of your novel: What does this scene do for the story? What am I accomplishing here? If you can’t answer that, you may not need the scene at all.
But you can do anything if you set up beforehand.
How do you echo your opening scene in your final scenes? Or do you foreshadow your ending differently?