Act One, Part One: Parallel Scenes for the Beginning

The opening scene of any story should be (if I’m writing it, your mileage may differ) the transition from the stable world into the unstable. That doesn’t mean that everything is hunky dory at the beginning of the scene, there can be a lot of trouble, but it’s the usual trouble, nothing new, the protagonist’s world is still working the way he or she expects it to. And then Something Happens that turns the stable world into an unstable one. So in the beginning, Nita is sick and drunk, but that’s nothing extraordinary, people get sick and drunk in the real world all the time. She has a new partner who doesn’t approve of her, but again, no red flags that the world is suddenly going to be different. But then Mort tells her Joey’s dead and the Devil’s in the bar, and while she doesn’t believe him about the Devil, she knows that all the little things that have been telling her that something bad is going on have just become concrete. Now she has to find out what’s happening because her safe island is no longer safe. This is the day that is different. Nick’s been pulling together all the reports from his agents and spent the day looking into Vinnie’s bar and the island in general, which is what he does, and he’s inexorably closing in on finding his agents and closing the gate; that’s his normal world. Then Joey’s killed and he knows that means there must be something bigger going on. He pushes harder, trying to keep Rab from destroying the island while interrogating Vinnie, alert now that he knows the island is not the safe space it seems to be. Then Nita walks in. This is the day that is different. So that’s what these two scenes have to set up, two people determined to do their jobs which in this instance is “keep the island safe,” realizing that today is different and things are much worse than they’d thought. Yes, I know those aren’t the scenes you read before. This is why we analyze and rewrite, people. You think I do this stuff for fun? Okay, yeah, I do it because it’s fun because I’m a wonk but also because it makes a much, much better book. How much better? If you go to jennifercrusie.com and click on the About tab, and then click on “Drafting Nita Dodd,” you’ll find drafts for the opening scene from February, April, August and December of 2016 and then this truck draft from March of 2017. Why anybody would want to read five drafts of the same scene is beyond me, but you can skim the first one and then read the latest one to get an idea of how far we’ve come. I mean, I’m impressed, and I wrote this stuff. Writing is rewriting, people. Never forget.

27 thoughts on “Act One, Part One: Parallel Scenes for the Beginning

  1. I’m pretty sure I’d read drafts of your grocery lists…

    The links to the first three discovery drafts aren’t working for me.

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      1. They should be working now. I did check them before I posted, but it turns out that if they’re in draft form on my computer, the links work for me even if they don’t for you. So I’m going to have to be more careful in the future. I apologize.

        Also I think I should probably add Nick’s second scene draft to those. That changed radically, too. Although possibly not as radically as the first scene. When I tell people my first drafts are horrible, they always pat my arm and say, “I’m sure they’re wonderful.” Here is proof that I know whereof I speak. I’d forgotten that Mort used to be Morgan and that Button was just cute and helpful. See, this is why i DISCOVER things.

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        1. Wasn’t one of the Dog in Dogs & Goddesses named Mort? He belonged to the crazy girl…you can tell me to shut up if you want.

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          1. Yep. Little black dog, I think. Same reason; his owner was obsessed with death, although in this case, it’s Mort’s grandmother.

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  2. After I read the first line, my brain added, “And then the killings began,” and I had to start over. 🙂

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  3. We read it all because your personal road trip to Oz is fascinating. It may not be the path we’d choose, but we love the journey.

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  4. Hello Jenny,

    Just reread the drafts and noticed Chloe Button. She reminded me of Chloe in Fast Women. Small cute blonde!! Any relation?

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    1. Nope. I’d completely forgotten about Chloe in FW. They’re not at all alike. I think I just think “small blonde” when I think of the name “Chloe.”

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  5. I really like this draft. It’s worth reading all the drafts because its like getting 5 Crusie books for one…

    But I’m not entirely convinced that Nita would call a partner she never met, or met only once, or something, to pick her up when she’s drunk. I’m not even sure she would know how to reach her.

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    1. That’s why she apologizes for drunk dialing her by accident. She put her in her phone when the lieutenant called her at home to tell her she had a new partner and gave her Button’s number.

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  6. The most recent draft is fucking awesome, which is a technical term I reserve for things like the Pats winning the last Super Bowl–not that writing a good book is anything like a winning a football game, but then again . . .

    I read through the drafts and I am awestruck at the process, the work and you. You have the absolute conviction that a writing can be improved, the courage to tear it completely apart without any weakness of heart and the strength and endurance to keep re-writing until it approaches what you think it should be.

    The characters in this draft remind me of Agnes and Gabe–that is, if they had been pumped up on steroids. And I am pleasantly surprised at how well this supernatural setting works. Until now, I hadn’t been a fan of this genre, though I do remember liking elements of Paradise Lost way back in college. There is also more of a place, a “there”, than in the previous magical settings. The sense of menace emanating from the setting provides a good backdrop to the romance (I think this is still a romance of sorts, right?). All that background research you did has resulted in an alternate reality with internal consistency that is apparent from the beginning. And the dialogue is wonderful–I laughed out loud several times!

    I cannot wait to read the final book when it is published!

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    1. Thank you, that’s what I was hoping for.
      The thing I worry about is that I just wash out all of the life out of the draft by rewriting. So it’s good to know it still works.

      I think the thing that’s most important as far as the supernatural in this book is that it’s not that super. There are two different spheres of reality–Earth and Hell–but they’re a lot alike. So it’s important to me that the world works just like normal, there are just these other people from somewhere else in there, too. Nick can smite, but he’s not a demon. He’s the real outsider on both sides because he’s a dead human. I think the more normal the real world is, the more interesting the supernatural is (and thank you, Joss Whedon, and Buffy and Angel).

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  7. I’m a re-reader by nature. Picking up an old fave book is like visiting good friends. You know what theyre going to say, but you feel good hearing it.

    Five drafts= Getting to know them.

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    1. Yes! All this dating and getting to know the drafts is getting me really excited to someday be able to take the finished book to bed with me, too. 😉

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  8. Yay, the murder hand thing is still there!

    AND THEN IT ENDS. WHY DOES IT END. Do I need to send a constant stream of cookies, potstickers, dogs, what, to make this book happen?

    Really picked up my day. Thank you.

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    1. Also, I don’t know if this paragraph was in prior drafts (I didn’t do the reread, oops, only so much energy and focus today), but there’s something about it I really love:

      ‘“Hello, Spooky,” Vinnie said, his voice a little too high, and Nick realized he was more afraid of this cold woman than he’d been of the Devil’s Fixer who’d set his bar on fire.’

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  9. Just read “There’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he’s Elvis” and was concerned that you missed some words in that sentence. Then I read Mort’s response and instead did a search on the words. This led me to a video from the 80’s clearly based on hair and outfit of Katy singing her breakout hit. I don’t recommend doing that.

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    1. Kirsty.
      Kirsty MacColl, one my favorite artists ever.
      Check out “Us Amazonians.” She wrote Tracy Ullman’s “They Don’t Know About Us,” too. And the fabulous “In These Shoes?”
      I used her all the way through Don’t Look Down, but she just popped up in Nita’s subconscious.

      How can you not love
      “There’s a guy works down at the chip shop says he’s Elvis,
      “Just like you swore to me that you’d be true.”
      “There’s a guy works down at the chip shop says he’s Elvis,
      “But he’s a liar and I’m not sure about you.”

      I love Kirsty MacColl.

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  10. I have been in asthma hell for 2 1/2 weeks, and am currently tanked up on a number of drugs, not a single one of which is any fun. This was a godsend, this was.

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    1. You, too? WTF? I’ve been wheezing for two weeks. I expect it when I go out to shovel snow, the cold almost always makes me wheeze, but inside?

      Oh, and glad you liked it (g).

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