Thursday, May 5, 2022


Posted by: Nicole Luiken

 My current work-in-progress is a novella called Unscripted based on a short story I wrote some twenty years ago called Without a Cue. 

It has a cute, somewhat quirky premise: everybody in this fictional world is delivered a script each day that they then have to follow. Only, of course, something goes wrong and the main character has to go off script to their great dismay.

I'm just starting the third draft, which is when I focus in on the nitty-gritty sentence level and analyze each scene. The beginning scene is the most important one in any story as it has to introduce the character and world as well as hooking the reader. I  thought it might be interesting to show a little bit of my process so here's an annotated excerpt from the first page.


Chapter One

Something about the bus driver snagged Chris’s attention as he boarded the city bus on Monday morning. It took his sleep-deprived brain a moment to realize what the oddity was: she lacked the silver R on her forehead that should have marked her as a Robot. 

[ANALYSIS: The first sentence is okay, but doesn't have as strong a hook as I  would like, only raising the minor question of What snagged his attention? It does a basic job to informing the reader who the main character is, what he's doing and when he's doing it. The second sentence is better, first raising the question of Why is Chris sleep-deprived? and then alerting the reader than this is a science fictional world in which Robots are regularly bus drivers as well as raising the question of why this bus driver isn't a Robot.]

The beige City Transit uniform and peaked cap identified her as the driver, but her hair burned a garish red and the curls brushed her shoulders. Robots had utilitarian, short haircuts. They kept silent and focused on their job, their stares vacant. This woman made eye contact and spoke to him.

“Good morning!”

She sounded so cheerful that Chris smiled back at her, though, of course, he didn’t reply.

[ANALYSIS: The second paragraph is mostly added detail, drawing a picture for the reader and explaining how the bus driver is different from a robot driver. The next two  sentences advance the plot slightly. I'm hoping the "of course he didn't reply" raises the question of why he didn't reply in the reader's mind. This is the first subtle hint to my big world-building hook that everyone is following a script. Not sure if it's too subtle, though.]

She winked. “I like you. Sit up front beside me.”

Chris blinked a little at the unexpected request, but his mind was too fuzzy to recognize the warning sign that something was wrong. Assuming that the driver must be part of a new Storyline that was starting, he collapsed onto the nearest blue vinyl seat, kitty-corner from the driver. His artist’s eye saw her as cartoon bird perched on her high seat.

[ANALYSIS: Nothing much has happened yet, but we get another big hint that something is wrong and Chris's commute to work is about to take an unexpected turn. The capitalization of Storyline is another hook to make the reader wonder about the world. Then I feed the reader a little more information about Chris: he is an artist. There's a fair amount of  information packed into the first six paragraphs, but it doesn't exactly start with a bang. Conclusion: it needs more work.]

And there you have it, a glimpse into a writer's mind during revision!


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