My soon to be published e-mystery, like my previous three e-novels, is written in the first person. It was the best choice for my first story, and because I have used the fictional characters in two other books, I was stuck with it. Not that I minded, but it does present problems.
But I thought to open my new book with a short scene in the 3rd person to set the stage, then revert to 1st person. The following is the opening:
Otis Oglethorpe, a life abused body and a lived in face, waded into the Skookumchuck River and washed the blood from his hands. Though there was nothing he could do about the bloody sleeves on his green wool shirt, he sunk them to the elbow anyway, scrubbing them, hoping to wash the blood off.
Otis knew it would be found, he made sure it would be, and he did not want to be around when it was. He walked back to his dirty, dinged up Ford and drove off.
He had thought about stealing a boat at Gig Harbor or there about, but decided to take the long way, driving to Shelton, then up toward Bremerton, before turning right and heading south through Key Peninsula until he reached Home. Many people honed in on Home, a beacon to the wayward thinkers of the world, the originators, the oddballs, the free thinkers, the loonies, and sometimes, a hideout for those on the run. Otis was running.
Then Chet Koski, the main character, and his wife Eveleen find a head on a grave.
But writers like to tinker and though I liked the opening, I decided to take a paragraph from later in the story and begin the novel using it. The following, with some editing is how it began. I should mention we begin in the middle of a conversation. More about that later.
“Like I said, writers are cheap and replaceable, but you’re welcome. My secretary said something about a murder down there. You kill anyone? Or maybe a suspect, as neither would surprise me.”
“Neither at the moment. But I have a great story to make a great script.”
“So how does the script start?” said Zukor.
“I start with a man putting a head on a grave. . .”
“Can you read the beginning to me?”
“Yes. This is how it starts. Otis Oglethorpe, a life abused body and a lived in face, waded into the Skookumchuck River and washed the blood from his hands. Though there was nothing he could do about the bloody sleeves on his green wool shirt, he sunk them to the elbow anyway, scrubbing them, hoping to wash the blood off.” I heard a loud yawn coming from the phone, but I continued. “Otis knew it would be found, he made sure it would be, and he did not want to be around when it was. He walked back to his dirty, dinged up Ford and drove off…”
“Okay, stop. What the hell are you doing, writing a novel or a script? I get the first part, the guy putting the head on a grave, there’s blood, and he’s trying to wash it off. Good imagery, but what’s the point of this ‘life abused body?’ ”
“He is a laborer, works outdoors, not a common criminal. He needs to look a certain way.”
“Fine. But why put in the part about ‘nothing he could do about the blood?’ We just need to see what is going on, that is what the audience wants. Don’t put in anything to make the director think about anything. Just give action and dialogue.”
“Right, I was just thinking out loud.”
“Leave thinking to philosophers. You write movies; you’re not a writer. Correct? No need to answer. You got till the end of the month, take notes, it might make a movie, you never know. Have a happy Thanksgiving and see you when you get back. You don’t need to stay any longer, so be here 1st of December. You can write in your office here on the lot you know. I have things to do and you’re wasting my time. Bye.”
The point was to incorporate the original 3rd person opening into a conversation between Chet and Paramount head, Adolph Zukor. I liked it. The problem was now with the conversation that took place in the middle of the story now gone, subsequent events did not work.
And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the original opening. So it went back in. I had saved the original opening (just in case), so I did a cut and paste over the phone conversation opening. I had done a cut and paste of the phone conversation, but because I did some changes to the conversation for the new opening, I had to rewrite a bit of the conversation when I reinserted it where it belongs.
I mention this because writers face more challenges than what characters say, grammar, proofreading, descriptions, punctuation, creating characters, scenes, and so on.
I like the original 3rd person opening, then changing to 1st person. It serves as a brief prologue and I hope gets the reader into the story. At one time book editors would say never do that, but so many writers wrote novels with different points of view, now only fuddy-duddies care.
After we learn about Otis and the blood, his dinged up Ford, I now have the following which was of course the original.
The last thing I expected on vacation was to find a bloody head resting on a grave. Actually it would not have been the last thing expected as I never would have expected it in the first place.
My wife Eveleen and I had taken a train from Los Angeles to Centralia, Washington, to visit my cousin Alma whose car we borrowed to drive around and visit other relatives while she was working at Farmers and Merchants Bank. We had been in town a couple of days and on our third day, after visiting two cousins, we drove around exploring the countryside and in returning got lost and ran out of gas. Getting gas however, was not the immediate concern. More important was my bladder that was near bursting. The cemetery was nearby.
While I found a spot away from the graves Eveleen was idly walking among the dead. When I finished I saw her standing still, so still I thought she must have walked upon a rattler, but this is Washington, they only have friendly garter snakes, at least on this side of the Cascades.
When I reached her she looked up and I looked down. There on the top of Hugh Pemberton’s grave, propped up against his headstone was the head of a woman, the neck bloodied, but otherwise no pool of blood anywhere.
I hope you enjoyed my reflections on opening a novel. Choices, choices, choices.
Here are two e-books with the same fictional amateur detectives.
They are on Amazon.