Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Good Opening

Chapter One

            “This is insubordination, Dick!”  Fearnley-Standish hissed.
            “Well, then, Abby,” the swarthy man growled back at him, “you have something to write in your little notebook for today.”
            “You may address me as Ambassador,” the younger, paler man whined, and removed his tall top hat for a moment to mop sweat from his brow with a white silk handkerchief.  The engine room of the Jim Smiley was tall enough to stand in comfortably, but the heat that its boiler gave off, even on a low idle as it was, made the chamber feel smaller and infernal. 
            Still, if Absalom Fearnley-Standish showed signs of struggling with the heat, that gave his companion all the more reason to be stoic.  “If we are to stand on rules of address,” he snarled, “you may call me Captain Burton.”  He picked up a heavy tool, spanner at one end and spike at the other, from a steel crate of similar implements and hefted it.  He leered at the diplomat, knowing that the red light coming through the furnace’s grate would give the scars on both sides of his face a devilish cast.  “This will do well enough.”
            “Again I protest,” Fearnley-Standish said, eyes darting around in the Vulcan gloom.  “My commission letter says nothing of sabotage.”
            “Well, then,” Burton answered in as reasonable a voice as he could muster, examining the three brass pipes that rose from the iron furnace to the enormous boiler, “you should have exercised a little more imagination when you wrote it.”  With a grunt and a swing of his powerful shoulders, he slammed the spike end of the tool into one of the pipes.  Clang!
*   *   *
I have been pre-writing on Project Beta for a couple of weeks, and have reached the point where I'm ready to start writing.  Above is my opening, and below are the reasons I like it.
  • It starts on characters.  Some readers, I suspect, can get really excited about the description of a mountain glen or a cityscape, but most readers, I believe, are willing to be drawn into an interesting character.  We see here two men starkly delineated, the man of action and the hand-wringer.
  • Without being heavy-handed about it, it begins to set milieu expectations.  The two characters are in the boiler room of some sort of vehicle.
  • It contains literary allusions.  The allusions are not random, but further work to set expectations as to milieu and characters.
  • Best of all, it starts on conflict.  There is unspecified conflict between these two characters and a third party (they are on a mission of sabotage), and there is a clear struggle between the two men presented to us; they do not respect each other and each thinks he is in charge.


  1. Is Abby a mere hand-wringer or is he a more deliberate type who is willing to take action as long as that action is properly planned for? Is Dick a man of action or is he a reckless type who takes action with a disregard for the consequences, thereby getting his associates into trouble? I look forward to finding out.

  2. I agree with your statement about the importance of conflict, which subtly enables the reader to acquire a sense of the characters' personality traits. The surroundings are important and set a tone in the story, and you have addressed them well. However, by starting with conflict off the bat you have drawn the reader in from the get-go and spurred his curiosity as to what is happening here. Finally, by placing a diplomat (who may have a dark past based on the scars on his face or may have been a victim of an attack which could be the impetus for the mission he's on) in conversation with a restless boat captain in a boat furnace room while discussing sabotage, you have covered a lot of ground in a few short lines and have thereby raised further questions for the reader to ponder as he goes forward. Good stuff.