The Importance of Your Book’s First Scene

The first impression you make on someone is vitally important. The same can be said about the importance of your book’s first scene. After writing my first draft of “Shell Game,” I came back and decided that my first scene didn’t have a strong hook. I went back to the drawing board in the rewriting process.

Do Some Soul Searching

After a day or so of soul searching, I came up with a new opening scene and revised first chapter. I actually did not realize the dramatic impact of the first scene until I let some fellow writers read it, and also, read it to my writing group. 

The rewrite accomplished several writing goals. The opening…

  • Started the story at a pivotal and suspense filled moment.
  • Introduced an unusual situation, intriguing characters and antagonists in a surprising and frightening setting.
  • Allowed me to package surprise, conflict and dread in the first encounter.

But I still wanted to up the ante of this suspenseful beginning scene. I added an unsuspecting protagonist, preoccupied with her own problems.

Up The Stakes

My job during the next chapters was to up the stakes. I needed to turn the screws to force my main character along with fellow protagonists and supporting characters to take direct action. I wanted them as deeply involved in the conflict and problems shown in the opening chapter throughout the rest of the book.

Critique Your Manuscript

When I gave my final manuscript to others for critique, I realized that I had done a good job in drawing people into the story of Shell Game. People were invested and interested in finding out what happened to the characters. I created a “whodunnit” and the question of “why.” 

Make Your Work Relatable

Shell Game has a universal element that is relatable, if not scary. The characters are placed into an unknown situation. Making matters worse, they are immediately fraught with physical danger from unknown persons and situations. 

The medical aspect of my thriller offered me some seriously creepy and gruesome means to inflict mayhem on my protagonists and their supporting characters. Being a medical “insider” has given me the ability to take what I know about hospitals and peri-operative processes and pervert it to create challenges and obstacles for my characters.

As for my next goal with my novels? I hope to invoke the same type of instant “Gotcha!” and interest that I feel I’ve created with the first chapter of Shell Game.


How to Switch On Your ‘Right’ Brain

After I solved the logistical and technical aspects of learning how to write fiction (it’s still very much a Work in Progress), it was time to figure out the when. The crazy hours associated with my medical practice make it challenging to carve out creative time for my writing. Although I frequently scribble notes that I hope to  expand upon after my time in the OR, time for plot development usually gets pushed to a new day. It can be hard to switch off the technical left brain. Even harder is learning how to switch on your creative ‘right’ brain.

Writing Means Rewriting

I had to accept that rather than the go-to-work and do-anesthesia routine, writing was a beast of its own schedule. Just because I had the time and the inclination, didn’t mean I could produce the type of material that I deemed to be quality. I learned quickly that the old adage of ‘killing my darlings’ was very true. As they say, the writing is in the rewriting.

Sometimes, I came up with a scene that popped. It was easy to write, the dialogue flowed, and everything just worked. That is, until I realized that my “perfect” scene contributed nothing towards the advancement of the plot. Many scenes that I loved writing and in truth, loved to read, ended up in the discard pile. As I self-edited and had professionals read and edit my material, suggestions were made and inevitably material was deleted.

Plot Pacing is Crucial

In order to keep a reader hooked, the advancement of the plot is crucial. The characters might decide to take over the plot and go on a detour. In some instances, it might work with the over pace of the plot. But then there are times when one finds they’ve written a tangent and headed down a meandering path. As a writer, one must look at their work with critical eyes and know when it’s important to get back on the main road.

When the Muses Speak…

The primary thing that I learn was that just because I planned on writing X number of pages in chapter Y,  I had to respect the creative muse that said, “Let’s write about this today instead.”  My writing schedule became much more fluid and productive as I became more responsive to the writing muse. Sensitivity to when I had the mechanics and structure of a scene just right was also a critical skill development. Those elements contributed toward effective creative writing.

From Expert to Rookie

I also had to learn how to accept constructive critiques and criticism. Just because I’m a subject expert in the field of anesthesia didn’t necessarily mean I could write about that subject in a fiction manner. From expert to rookie, I was learning a new skill — how to convey information effectively, but creatively.

With time it has gotten easier to enter into my creative mind about my highly technical field. Like medicine, the craft of writing is something I can easily foresee myself continuing to learn as I continue to write and publish. I never forget that to work in medicine is still called, ‘the practice of medicine.”  The art and craft of writing is no different. Artistry and creativity can truly be where you choose to see it.