The one piece of useful advice I received when I was querying my first book to agents was to make sure the story started out with action (check out this article for an example: How to Start Your Novel: What the Movie TRUE LIES Taught Me by Chuck Sambuchino). I’ve heard this advice a lot, especially when dealing with the young adult market, so I took it to heart and deleted the original opening of Welcome to the Darkness. I’m guessing at the statistics, but I’d say 75% of my readers prefer it this way, unfortunately, that means 25% or so think the story starts into the action too quickly. Those people would have prefered a slower opening where we get to know the characters a little bit before everything goes to hell.
Bonus materials for movies and books often include alternate endings… well, I’d like to offer you an alternate beginning! These are the first couple of pages I ended up deleting from Welcome to the Darkness – basically a snapshot of Reed’s normal life before the you-know-what hits the fan. What do you think – should I have left this part in or is it better the way it is?
************ Deleted opening sequence from Welcome to the Darkness Chapter One *************
People always seem to want more in their life: more money, more fame, more adventure. I was no exception, believe me. I was a high school senior and member of the football team (no, not the captain or the quarterback, just a plain old linebacker). I had a small group of friends and I’d dated a couple of girls, but it was nothing very serious or long lasting. I lived with my parents and younger sister on a small farm in the middle of nowhere. My life seemed so freaking normal, of course I yearned for something, anything exciting to happen. Looking back, I realize how good I had it – how great it was to have a home, to have my family, to be alive. To be . . . human.
On a Saturday afternoon in late autumn, I was hanging out at my buddy Jared’s place. There were five of us crammed onto his battered-up old couch. The couch was a disgusting plaid covered with stains and little rips. It was shocking it could support the weight of a single person without collapsing, never mind five teenagers.
Besides being the only one of us who owned a video game console, Jared had the coolest place to hang out at by far. His parents had let him take over an old barn on their property, and he’d fixed it up enough to make it liveable. The couch may have been gross, but it was his couch. Plus, living out in the country, there wasn’t much choice of places to hang out.
Our group of five consisted of Nick, Connor, Julia, Jared, and me. I know, four guys and one girl, but Julia had always been one of the guys. None of us thought of her as anything more than a friend. She was “petite” – she hated it when I said “short” – which made us all feel extra protective of her.
At the moment, she was kicking my butt in Soul Caliber. I sat on the edge of the couch, waving the controller around as if that would somehow help my game playing. I found it annoying that Julia always beat me, and I was determined to get the best of her for once. Suddenly my watch alarm went off, distracting me from the game just long enough for Julia to defeat me . . . again. I jabbed at my watch to shut off the alarm.
“I gotta run,” I said. “Can’t be late for dinner.”
“I’m coming too,” Julia said and she turned and gave me a guilty, sorry-I-kicked-your-butt-yet-again look.
“Hey, Reed,” Jared called. He was too busy setting up the next game to look at me. “You coming back tomorrow?”
“I dunno,” I answered. “I have to finish my homework first.”
No one said anything else as they continued to stare at the small TV screen like a bunch of zombies. Julia and I headed out of the barn to walk home. We walked mostly in silence down the two-lane road past the empty fields toward our respective homes. It was a comfortable silence though. It took about fifteen minutes to get to her place and another fifteen to get to mine. The sun had set by the time I walked in my front door.
My mom called out from the kitchen. “You’re just in time to set the table, honey.”
“Awesome,” I groaned. The smells wafting my way from our small kitchen at the back of the house made my stomach growl.
My sister, Sam, the aspiring fashionista, tromped down from upstairs, barely sparing me a glance. She was way overdressed in a bright blue, sequined top, black velvet leggings, and her curled brown hair was done in a fancy up-do. “When’s dinner, Mom? I’m starving,” she shouted.
“Luckily for you two I cooked enough to feed a small army,” Mom replied, emerging from the kitchen carrying a steaming bowl of beef stew.
I was so anxious to get eating, I even helped set the table and bring out the rest of the dinner without being asked. Dad slipped out of his office to join us at the table.
“So, did you finish your homework, Reed?” Mom asked as I dug eagerly into my dinner. The look she gave me made it obvious she knew full well I hadn’t even started.
“Mmph . . .” I said, my mouth full of food. “I’ll do it tomorrow.”
“I finished my homework,” Sam said. “And you shouldn’t talk with your mouth full, Reed.”
I kicked her under the table and she kicked back.
“Guys,” Dad said. “Sometimes you still act like a couple of six-year-olds, and I have to remind myself you’re fifteen and almost eighteen.”
My sister bit her lip and gave me a guilty look. I returned her look with a mischievous grin.