One of the greatest signs that we are dealing with an experienced, professional writer is that there is no unnecessary first scene. The real writer knows where the story actually starts.
The three examples below are from my own work. I’m wiser now but still see new writers doing this.
Story of a watercolour
One of my novels originally starts off with a young girl putting the final touches to a watercolour. She is anxious to get this off in the post as it’s part of a letter to her former classmates. Now, that letter does become important later and her classmates do admire her skill but more importantly she disappears shortly after posting that letter. It’s crucial to introduce the first step towards that disappearance on the first page.
A fabulous breakfast
As my protagonist sets out on her adventure, she and her family enjoy a sumptuous breakfast. She feels car sick later and because they have to stop the adventure begins. A one-line flashback to the breakfast is enough. The reader actually doesn’t need to know the details of the breakfast. So, I got rid of the breakfast. The book has since been published.
A dramatic argument
A couple quarrel. Possibly partly because of this but more likely because of bad weather and bad driving by a third party, the protagonist is killed in a car crash. The rest of the story takes place in his after-world. Again, it is better to start with the crash itself and then refer to the argument. The argument still has a point as it means that he needs to resolve things form beyond the grave. However, the reader doesn’t need the details. This book is now published.
Why we write these scenes
It was actually still important to write these scenes. It allowed me to get to know the characters really well. But just as with any other writerly research, you don’t need to overwhelm your reader with these details. Just write with the knowledge that th research has given you.
What to do with the killed darlings
Yes, these are certainly darlings that need killing. Often we’re rather pleased with them and have put everything that we know about our craft into these snippets. Keep them anyway, for the good writing they contain.
My watercolour example is turning into a piece of flash fiction – one that tells a very similar story to the whole book. The breakfast will become a piece of flash life-writing. The argument can also become a flash story.
The novel containing the watercolour scene will be supported by a web site once it is published. I’ve written a lot of the copy already and am including “deleted scenes” – there are a few others as well.
Another parallel with the film industry
You probably know how much work goes into a film script before it is made into a film – and much of that work happens after the script is accepted and before they start making the film. Even so, frequently the first couple of pages and even a couple of scenes are left out. We literally “cut to the chase”.
A note of warning
It is important to get this right. Put your manuscript away for a few days before you send it out into the world. Make sure you’re not filling the limited word count in the few chapters you’re invited to submit with those darlings that need killing.