Beyond Plot: Making a Scene Real

This weekend, I submitted the opening scene of one of my sci-fi/fantasy novels to Under the Microscope. Prior to submitting, I took a hard look at the scene, trying to anticipate its weaknesses, and I thought I’d share the before and after. I’ll keep you apprised if the scene gets accepted.

The first version focused primarily on plot, while the second tries to capture more of the setting, noting what the characters see, hear, and feel a little more. Enjoy! And let me know if you feel the new version lost anything in the editing process.

“Before” Version
He quickly glanced down the street, a frown on his face as his eyes moved across the scene, dragging the girl behind him. The sound of his phone ringing had stopped, and no one seemed interested in them. Good.
Then it rang again. Letting out a hiss through his teeth, he hurried the girl into an alleyway, tucking her behind an oversized dumpster, and pulled out the phone. The face on the screen, smiling and red-haired, made him frown more. Still, he answered it. “Erin?”
“What are you up to?”
He almost laughed. “What kind of a question is that?” he asked, watching as his breath made itself into puffs of water vapor, a cloud before his face.
“Just answer it, Rupert. I’m a busy woman.”
“Fine. I’m not currently busy…why?” At this distance, she wouldn’t be able to tell that he was lying…for once.
“My sister’s dead. And I need to know if le Dernier left her to her fate…if he knew about her mission ahead of time.”
“Every reporter in Rhetora’s going to be looking into that story,” he said, keeping his voice low. The girl knew he was from Rhetora; he hoped that no one else in this town would.
“Do you want to help me or not?”
“Help you determine Michal’s guilt? Sure, I’d be happy to help…but what will you do with the evidence?”
“That depends on what we find.”
He turned his focus on the conversation. He was busy, but not too busy to miss a good chance at revenge. “No good, Erin. If he’s guilty, then it’s high time we get revenge…”
“I’m not going to kill him, Rupert. And you aren’t, either. If you agree to help me, you have to play by my rules, as long as you’re on the job. Agreed?”
There was silence as he thought about it for a moment. He could always tell her he quit and then shoot Monsieur le Dernier. “Agreed. I’ll be in Rhetora in a couple days. But it isn’t going to be easy…”
“If it were easy, I wouldn’t be talking to you, Rupert.”
“After” Version
He quickly glanced down the street, a frown on his face as he moved along the frozen sidewalks, dragging the girl behind him. The sound of his phone ringing had stopped, and no one seemed interested in them. Good.
The city was heavy with darkness. If there was any moonlight, it was far above their heads, hidden by buildings. It was a clear, dull night. He could make out a few constellations above them, but by the time the starlight reached the ground, it seemed exhausted. No one was out unless they had to be, but there were a few people, hurrying much as they were. They shouldn’t be too conspicuous.
Then his phone rang again. Letting out a hiss, he hurried the girl into an alleyway, tucking her behind an oversized dumpster, and pulled out the phone. The face on the screen, smiling and red-haired, made him frown more. Still, he answered it. “Erin?”
“What are you up to?”
He almost laughed. “What kind of a question is that?” he asked, watching as his breath turned into puffs of water vapor, a cloud before his face.
“Just answer it, Rupert. I’m a busy woman.”
“Fine. I’m not currently busy…why?” At this distance, she wouldn’t be able to tell that he was lying…for once.
“My sister’s dead. And I need to know if le Dernier left her to her fate…if he knew about her mission ahead of time.”
“Every reporter in Rhetora’s going to be looking into that story,” he said, keeping his voice low. The girl knew he was from Rhetora; he hoped that no one else in this town did.
“Do you want to help me or not?”
The wall opposite him was falling apart. He could see the failing mortar between the bricks, sense its fragility. One push at just the right spot… “Help you determine Michal’s guilt? Sure, I’d be happy to help, but what will you do with the evidence?”
“That depends on what we find.”
He brought his mind back to what she was offering. He was busy, but not too busy to miss a good chance at revenge. “No good, Erin. If he’s guilty, then it’s high time we get revenge…”
“I’m not going to kill him, Rupert. And you aren’t, either. If you agree to help me, you have to play by my rules, as long as you’re on the job. Agreed?”
There was silence as he thought about it for a moment. He could take the job, then quit and shoot Monsieur le Dernier. “Agreed. I’ll be in Rhetora in a couple days. But it isn’t going to be easy…”
“If it were easy, I wouldn’t be talking to you, Rupert.”

Copyright 2014 Andrea Lundgren

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