Writing Fantasy: Scene Transitions

by Sardukas

Question: I have a fantasy novel that I've been working on for a while now, and though I've got most of the story plot, characters, and world planned out, I'm stumped on my initial scene.


My novel starts off with my main male protagonist inspecting the remains of a ruined countryside village with a secondary character. A fairly short scene but it establishes the overall tone of the story (pretty dark), introduces Zaen, my main guy, and one of the two greater conflicts of the story. Zaen comes to the conclusion that in order to find who's responsible for attacking the villages throughout the province, he needs to enlist the help of a mage to use magic to track them down.

Enter: my female protagonist, who attends a prestigious school in the luxurious capital city, miles away from Zaen. Ironically, she is inept with magic and suffers greatly from social anxiety due to years of bullying. Meek, shy, and soft spoken, I wanted to introduce her, the capital city, and the school all together.

Should I start a new chapter for her? I don't mind, it's just that doing so would leave Zaen's initial scene a two page (at most) chapter. I had planned to throw in an ambush fight scene to lengthen it as well as give insight to Zaen's combat abilities, but I feared that strong action scenes like fights would be a little too much for a first chapter (I know you're supposed to hook readers in from the get go, but still.)

Or is there a more cohesive way to fuse the two scenes together in one chapter without confusing readers when it gets to her part?

Answer: I dislike giving specific advice on plot (because I think writers do a better job on their own, given time). However...

The general principle is to avoid anything that feels like preamble and instead begin with an important event. Begin where something interesting happens that sets up a major arc (plot or character).

There are four major throughlines to a complete story, each with their own arcs, and each of which offers a potential starting place. They are...

* The Overall throughline (e.g. the war that is affecting everyone in the story world and the effort to end it).

* The Main Character throughline (the story of Zaen's inner conflict and growth).

* The Impact Character throughline (the girl's story that influences Zaen's inner conflict).

* The Relationship throughline (the evolution of their relationship).

The difficulty with your current opening scene may be that it is not so much an event but preamble -- establishing the reason why Zaen recruits the girl's help.

Turning the scene into an event (the ambush) that demonstrates who Zaen is at the start of the story might work, as long as the reader gains insight into the inner workings of his personality (not just his fighting style) and feels personally connected to him. We want to know if we can relate to his attitude, his values, his desires, etc.

Another approach would be to cut this initial scene and begin with the girl's point of view, showing an event at the school in which her ineptitude or social awkwardness is made plain and which leads into her meeting Zaen. Of course, this would likely establish her as the main character rather than Zaen. It would become the story of her adventure more so than his.

A third approach might be to cut both these scenes and begin with the two characters arriving to investigate the ruined village and coping with a serious problem (ambush might work). You could establish quickly how they came to be working together. (For instance, did he kidnap her? Did the school bully put her name forward? Did the school want to get rid of her? Did she lose the draw? Or did she volunteer to get away from the bullies?) The idea would be to establish their initial relationship by forcing them to work together to cope with a problem.

In fact, it might help if this initial event appears to go badly, so that they conclude their partnership won't work. There could be initial conflict between them as each of them finds the other's approach inadequate. But then, if he doesn't take her back to the school immediately, you would need to explain why. (E.g. they get captured or marooned, the school gets attacked, etc.)

Of course, you will also need her to do something right in this first scene, even if by accident, so that the reader can see the potential of this relationship, even if the characters themselves do not. As impact character, she needs to challenge Zaen in a way he has not been challenged before, much as he challenges her.

As you can see, I'm assuming this will be a romantic relationship, though that is not necessarily the case if he is much older than her.

You can always fill in their backstories later on or as needed.

In fact, if you wanted to make the girl the main character, you could have him dump her back at the school later on -- where he could see how much of an underdog she is. This could be the black moment. Zaen might then discover she was right about something and return to enlist her help because he realizes he needs her despite her shortcomings. (Also, he might realize he has fallen for her.)

Something else to bear in mind is that it is usually more effective to begin with character than action. Even if the first chapter will feature an action scene, the first few paragraphs need to establish an intriguing character voice to hook the reader.

Again, these are just thoughts and you may well find a better solution yourself. Just remember to make that first scene an event that draws the reader into a major arc.

Try to give the first chapter it's own mini-arc (setup--> complication--> crisis--> resolution).

Best of luck.

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