The first chapter of Tim Bowler’s Frozen Fire is pretty good, and with an opening line like “I’m dying.” it’s hard not to be. That’s right, it’s time for another opening scene breakdown.
Any advice given is based on observations from works I enjoy and is not intended to be taken as the end-all-be-all solution to everyone’s writing woes. I do not give advice that I myself don’t follow or haven’t found useful at some point. Please remember that writing is an ongoing learning experience and I’m not flawless.
You can read all previous parts of this series here.
“I’m dying.” said the voice.
Writing experts tell us to hook the reader in the first line, and Tim Bowler does exactly that with this opening to his YA thriller. Who does the voice belong to? Why are they dying? By having the protagonist, Dusty, ask these same questions, it helps us empathise with her. That, and the identity of the boy on the phone is the main mystery of the novel. A neat bit of foreshadowing!
Bowler quickly builds suspense by establishing that Dusty is a teen girl alone at night, waiting for her dad to come home. She’s vulnerable. As she tries to get out of the situation, the boy tells her that’s he’s taken an overdose. This puts pressure on Dusty and raises the stakes.
“I’m not watching the window.” said the boy suddenly.
This is another hint at the deeper conflicts of the novel and makes us suspicious of the boy. As he ‘coincidentally’ keeps guessing information about our protagonist and what she’s doing, the suspense builds. This also serves to reveal details about our main character that will become important later on.
It’s vital that what’s revealed only serves to deepen the mystery. Anything more would be info-dumping. It’s a fine balance.
Bowler shows us who Dusty is through dialogue, revealing that Dusty lost someone important to her called Josh. This backstory also clues us into her story goal. She wants to find what happened to Josh and her mysterious caller has some answers.
“You said the name Josh a moment ago.”
“I made it up. Like I made up your phone number. And the name Daisy.”
Dusty presses the boy for more answers, but her time is running out. The boy is drifting away and doesn’t want to answer any more of her questions. When the boy puts the phone down, it all seems to be over.
That’s until Dusty realises where the boy is.
All throughout the scene, description of sound has clued us and Dusty to the boy’s location. This is a good use of the senses.
If she was right, the boy was barely two hundred yards away.
She has time to reach him. Not a lot, but maybe enough to save his life.
Something I forgot to mention my post for The Man Who Fell to Earth was the importance of a second hook at the end of a chapter. In Frozen Fire, this is Dusty’s decision to find the boy and save his life. This promise of action urges us to keep reading. Will she find the boy in time? What will she do once she does? Does the boy have the answers she seeks?
- Hook in the first sentence.
- Story questions used to establish empathy with the protagonist, the premise, and foreshadowing.
- Mystery and suspense.
- Stakes revealed.
- Dialogue to reveal character.
- Hint at backstory.
- Story goal revealed.
- Stakes rise.
- Description, using the five senses.
- Second hook.
Have you read Frozen Fire? If not, does the opening scene convince you? What opening scenes stuck with you? If you liked this, be sure to check out the opening breakdowns for Mr. Robot, Baby Driver, and The Man Who Fell to Earth.