Ah, here we go. Chapter One, the first scene. The first scene of any chapter is supposed to set the stage. Give us insight into the key players and their goals. Every scene must contribute to building the story and help us understand the character(s). So before you take a look at what my younger self wrote, think about these three questions. 1) What does the Main Character want? What is her goal? 2) How does she try to get to this goal? 3) What gets in her way of getting what she wants? If you can’t answer any of these questions soon into reading the story, then perhaps it needs to be rewritten.
July 26, 1967
The moonlight made me giddy, as I donned my pale pink gown for the dance. Susan and I were playing our favorite record by the Rolling Stones, and dancing about madly, excited and happy.
Note: My commas have gone crazy. Punctuation wasn’t my strong suit. Also…”donned” is a really old-fashioned word, even for the late 60s. Some “telling” in this paragraph that could be revised.
“Hey, should I wear these?” she asked, laughing, holding up some garters.
Note: Where did she come up with garters? Did she take them out of her pocket? It’s not as if people leave them lying around their homes on a regular basis.
“Oh, yeah…like you’re gonna need to wear those with Bobby tonight.” I said, yanking them out of her hand.
Note: This was written before I learned that a comma separates the quotation from the speaker.
She slid over to the mirror and started fiddling with her hair. “I don’t even know if he likes me.” she said.
Note: Mirror? Where? I never informed the reader of setting. That was a common feature I used to leave out in my stories. I sometimes still do. After all I know where my characters are! But it’s so important to set up the scene so that your reader has no doubt where it’s taking place. Subtle hints work. Mentioning sitting on her bed, maybe. Or her friend could take a blanket off the bed and wrap it around herself because she’s chilly. Although maybe not in July…but, you get the drift. Clues that help us identify where the story is taking place.
“He asked you to this dance, didn’t he?” I opened up the window, and stared up at the moon. A cloud drifted past it, casting an eerie shade of grey upon it, seeming almost to grow silver.
“Yeah, well, when you talked to him did he sound like he really wanted to go with me, or did he act like he was just desperate…well, not desperate. I don’t mean that, but…”
I was focusing on the cloud, but suddenly something else caught my attention. Something on the ground in the distance. It was like a shadow moving, slowly and meticulously. And something was being dragged beside it. I tried squinting my eyes to see the figure more closely, but it was too far away.
Note: This description sucks reptile eggs. “Like” a shadow moving? Squinting eyes to see figure more closely? As if eyes could be adjusted like a telescope. Also, get rid of all -ly adverbs. This could be written so much better without them.
“Earth to Nora. Come in Nora.” Susan’s voice mocked.
Note: Men didn’t visit the moon until 1969. Not sure this was even a saying back then.
“Well, I think he was genuinely interested.”
“I asked you if you think I should wear my hair up. What’s with you? Weren’t you listening?
“I…I wanted to answer your first question first. Um…wear your hair down.” I shut the window, and sat down on the bed.
“Geez, you’d think you were self-posessed or something. You know, maybe Bobby is interested…but maybe not in my mind. I mean, you know how I am. I have to have a guy like me in every way, and especially he has to be interested in what I have to say.” She shook her head, and her hair swayed around her shoulders.” I think you are lucky. You must be the luckiest girl in the world to have Jake.”
I ended the scene here, but really I should mention how Nora feels about this statement. Does she feel lucky?
Also, We really need to make Susan’s dialogue shorter and more intense. It doesn’t sound like someone speaking. It sounds like she’s reading an essay. Dialogue is essential to a story. The reader understands who the character is by how they speak, how they put things, and how they interact with the other characters through speech. So much is conveyed through dialogue. But, it also needs to have action attached. Sometimes what someone says does not coincide with what they’re doing as they speak. And this can give us even more clues to the character. remember, the more interesting the characters, the more interesting the story becomes.
My rewrite: So, I have quite a few ways I can rewrite this to make it stronger. Remember, we want someone to want to keep reading. And although the part about Jake could be a cliffhanger, it might be even more intense if we see hints about Jake not being the “perfect boyfriend.” Now, I haven’t read this story in thirty years, so I really have no idea if this is the case. But knowing the type of stories I used to write (and still do), all is not well for our naive Nora. And that keeps things interesting. I still don’t know my main character’s goal, either, but we can create one and make changes if it doesn’t work for this particular story.
I could read my story and rewrite that way. I might have a clue what the story is about. But nope. Let’s have fun with this, shall we?
July 26, 1967
The Rolling Stones’ “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” warbled from the record player. I swayed to the music, watching my soft pink gown swish around my ankles in my full-length mirror. Susan jumped up and down on my bed, still in her bra and underwear, her freshly-pressed dress slumped over the bedpost.
“Oh my God, my palms are so sweaty,” I gushed. How was it possible to be this worked up over a stupid, meaningless college dance?
“Your palms are sweaty? What have you got to be nervous about? You already know Jake is over the moon about you. I’m the one who needs to be freaked out.”
“No, you don’t. Bobby is your soulmate, remember? That’s what you’ve been saying for weeks.”
She dropped down onto my bed and sat on my now-rumpled quilt. “Well, yeah, Nora. He is. Completely and utterly. I just don’t think he knows it yet.”
He probably didn’t. And most likely wouldn’t. Susan went through guys like an alcoholic goes through beer. Only with less dignity.
“Should I wear my hair up?” She ran to my mirror and bopped me out of the way with her hip. “And maybe have tendrils down my cheeks? Guys like sexy tendrils, right?”
I needed air. My nerves left me light-headed. Sick to my stomach. What is wrong with me? I slipped over to my window, parted the curtains, and opened the sash. I gulped in the cool evening air. A cloud cast an eerie gray shadow across the full moon.
“Or do you think I should wear my hair down?” Susan asked, oblivious to my plight.
Something moved in the corner of the vacant lot behind my apartment. At first, I thought it might be a loose dog. Or maybe a coyote. But it moved too slow. as I focused on the figure, I realized it was a person struggling to drag something on the ground beside him or her. My breath caught in my throat. Who would be out there at this time of night? And what would they be doing?
“Up or down, Nora? Are you even listening to me?”
I backed away from the window and gave Susan an up-and-down glance. “Um…maybe if you put on your dress we could figure it out…” I returned to the window and looked out, but the figure was gone.
“You’re so lucky,” Susan said. “You already know you and Jake are going to end up together forever. Why can’t I find that type of love?”
I turned back to her and gave a tight-lipped smile. “Yeah. Lucky me,” I said. It came out more sarcastic than I’d meant it to, but Susan was too busy struggling into her dress to notice. She managed to squeeze into it somehow, even though it belonged to her much tinier sister.
“Think Bobby will be all over me?” She gave me a wicked smile.
“No doubt,” I said. “Keep your hair down. It’ll hide the hickies.”
She giggled like a giddy little girl and grabbed my hairbrush from the vanity. “Oh, Nora. You’re so funny sometimes.”
I’d been serious, but I laughed with her. My palms still felt damp. I didn’t want to see Jake tonight. Or ever again.
Cliffhanger! Now we know that despite pretending things are great, Nora is unhappy in her relationship. We also know she saw something odd outside and assume it’s connected to the story in an important way. We can also deduce Susan and Nora are close friends, hence Susan feeling comfortable jumping around half-naked. And they’re obviously in Nora’s apartment bedroom. So setting has been established. All this in just a bunch of paragraphs! Much better than my draft. Next up, scene two and bringing in backstory.