Writing Right Out In Public: The Opening Scene

This is the third post in my Writing Right Out In Public public novel project. Read the introduction for full details and links to other posts.

Now that I have a basic summary of some of the story’s foundation out of the way, it’s time for some actual scene writing. I have to admit, writing a scene straight out and posting it on the blog with no real editing–even when I don’t think it’s fantastic–is not a thrill for me. Keeping in mind Rule #1, “Give your writing permission to suck,” and knowing that I could easily get stuck for weeks or months on trying to get a great first scene done and posted, I’m powering forward with this process. Following is my third attempt at the first scene of this novel (the title of which I still haven’t figured out) and it could use some work. But I think there’s something to work with here, too.

This also, admittedly, really only be the first half of the first scene, but the end point is natural enough. So without further ado, here is the first scene, with almost no editing aside from a little on-the-fly. (Which is something I love to do, and that John Michael Greer strenuously advises against; I think I’m going to have to work on that.)

Scene #1

The crow swooped down from a nearby Douglas fir and landed behind Lillian on the fresh-stirred earth with a hesitating flutter of its wings. It took one hop, leaving a small pair of three-line tracks that Ren stared at a moment before shifting his attention back to the bird. A female, he thought, and he was almost sure; Lillian had been trying to teach him sexing, though crows were harder. “Look at their size, watch their movements,” she told him. She always knew their sex, like some kind of parlor trick, like a taunt. “It doesn’t matter, anyway,” she would tell him when he grew frustrated, but with a smile, as though it did matter.

The crow hopped again behind Lillian and pecked at the earth, jerking her head and scattering a few small bits of humus, more intent on her explorations than the two humans before and behind her. Ren liked the way the diffused sunlight shimmered across the crow, creating a small iridescence that felt like flowing water to him. The bird’s quick movements mesmerized him, and for a moment his small world narrowed down to just the crow, the way it lived in the world.

Lillian glanced back then and Ren’s eyes flicked up to her face just as she blessed the crow with a fleeting smile, her eyes distracted, not even noticing Ren. It lasted only the briefest moment, her turning back to the task at hand as his attention broke from the crow, his mind filling with water, his mother’s face. That smile—quick and flitting, given to so many people and animals as she took some small delight in their presence, almost as if that presence surprised her—he knew it. Their mother gave that same smile, and it was in that moment he realized what a copy of his mother’s smile it was, what similar ways she and his sister came to the world around them.

Again the crow pecked at the ground, digging into the dirt where Ren was sure Lillian had planted a sunflower seed only moments ago. Leaning down and keeping his eyes on the bird, Ren plucked a small rock from the ground with his free hand. He hefted it, testing the weight, glancing at Lillian, and then flung it at the crow, being careful to keep its trajectory such that it was unlikely to bounce and inadvertently hit his sister.

The rock struck the dirt just to the side of the corvid, kicking up a clod but doing no other damage, and the crow jerked into the air, emitting a soft and surprised caw as she flew unharmed back to the tree from which she had come. Lillian whirled at the noise, catching site of the bird and Ren in a quick and apprising glance and piecing the situation into an instantaneous understanding. “Ren!” she yelled. “Why?”

“She wanted the seed,” he said, shrugging and looking down, pressing his right foot hard against the ground. It was pressure but not pain, and at that moment he would have given anything for pain. “We can’t waste it.”

Lillian glanced toward the tree the crow had disappeared into, then back at Ren. He kept pushing down with his foot—harder, harder. “If she wanted a seed or two and was paying enough attention to find them, she can have them. You know we want crows here. They keep the balance. She’ll settle it in the end.”

“She could at least wait until we’re gone.”

“Ren,” she said, sighing. “I don’t think she cares if we’re here or not, and you know that. We don’t want her thinking we mean harm.”

He looked up at her, his small defiance. “Maybe we do mean harm.” She responded with silence, staring hard at him, and a familiar hot shame swept through him even as he tried to hold against it, staring back at his sister. He only saw his mother, though. Somehow it had eluded him before, even though the similarities had long been there: Lillian’s long and dark brown hair, lightly curled; the grace of her movements, particularly the ones taken without thought; the simplicity with which she spoke with others, laughed, brought them to ease. They were all legacy. They were all echoes.

I don’t,” she said finally. “I don’t think you do, either.” Her voice dropped and became edged with worry. “You can’t keep doing this, Ren.”

Obvious retorts came to mind but he swallowed all of them. A swollen river raged in his mind and he imagined Lillian caught in it, reaching out toward him even as pale and rotting arms reached out for her, rising out of the water and clawing at her back, tearing her flesh. He closed his eyes, but that made it worse.

“I’m sorry,” he said, half meaning it. He wanted the moment to pass. The cloth bag of seed in his left hand suddenly felt heavy, weighing him, bringing his attention back to a new focus. “I’ll seed. The crows can eat whatever they want.” He opened the bag, took a small handful of seed from it, and started to sprinkle it on the dirt around him.

“Stop,” she said. He paused. “We’re doing something else. Come with me.”

He hesitated. “Where?”

“Down to the creek.”

His breath caught. “No.”

“Ren,” she said, giving him a hard look. “Come with me.”

He cinched the seed bag slowly. “Which part of the creek?” he asked, and her expression softened.

“Not that part. Come on.”

4 thoughts on “Writing Right Out In Public: The Opening Scene

  1. Good start! It definitely sets up some questions, introduces the tension and also the affection between the siblings. It was clear the sister was older, but maybe it would be good to state Ren’s age at the start – it’s often important when a reader is trying to picture the character at first (it’s important to me, anyway). You also set up some suspense right off the bat, and that’s good. I hope you’ll follow through and explain what “you can’t keep doing this” means.


    1. Thanks, Cathy! Good point on stating Ren’s age–that’s a good reminder. Definitely plan(ned) to explain the comment, except that as I tried to dive further into the second scene yesterday, I eventually came to the realization while out on a walk that I really don’t think I want to write this from Ren’s point of view; I’m pretty sure I want to write it from Lillian’s (and maybe change her name). I guess this is the tricky part of writing a novel in public! (Although better to figure this out now than after I have 20 or 30 pages in the bank, right?)

      I’m working on a new first scene now and it so far feels much more right. So stay tuned for my calling a mulligan and starting again.


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