When I started writing Solarversia last June, I hadn’t done any creative writing for at least 25 years (save the two chapters I wrote when I first had the idea back in 2009, and trust me, they were god awful). I had no idea where to begin. Even though I’d been a reader my whole life, the sum total of my knowledge amounted to something like:
- Books needs to have an exciting plot so that people will keep reading it
- There needs to be a beginning, a middle, and an end
Honestly, I’m not sure I could have added much to that list. One of the first things I needed to learn was how to kick things off. Where do you start, and why? In terms of writing the very first sentence, I found this article useful. It provides a list of tips to help you engage readers in just one sentence (including things like foreshadowing, raising questions in the reader’s mind, and starting in the middle of things).
I soon learned that the way I had planned to start the book (my character starting their day) was the most cliched way you could start a book. Don’t do it! It now starts with Nova, the protagonist, in the middle of her Krazy Karting heat. She’s in 17th place, and needs to finish in the top ten in order to qualify. It’s exciting, fast-paced and gives the reader a flavour of things to come. As the featured image on this blog post suggests, Krazy Karting was inspired and influenced by Mario Kart, a game I played a lot in the 90s.
Solarversia isn’t really about racing. Other than the opening scene, there’s only one other race, the Karting final, which takes place in London, and involves all three of a player’s vehicles (their cars, boats and planes). That race occurs at the 50% mark and acts as one of the showpiece action scenes, taking in a fair selection of London landmarks.
Included below is the opening scene. Hopefully it does what is required of it, hooking readers in, getting their interest. It’s not the finished article (it’s only been through two drafts) but it’s not far off either. I’d love to hear your thoughts! Oh yeah, here’s some early concept art for Flynn, her car.
Chapter One, Scene One
Nova tore round the hairpin at the top of Alpha Island to find that the road ahead was iced over. The driver ahead of her had dropped a jar of Skidz. Now she’d have to choose: stay on the road and risk a fate similar to Burner in his heat, or deploy her Winged Beauties to fly over it, and potentially miss them later in the lap. It was the kind of decision Krazy Karting champions made in a split-second, using gut instinct rather than cold logic.
Gut instinct said Step on it. As her car, Flynn, hit the ice, Nova lost control of the wheels. First left, then right, in a maddening dance, she skidded and turned, adding extra seconds to her time. But she wasn’t alone. The five cars around her also began to pirouette and spin and then suddenly, from her position in the middle of the pack, she shot out in front of them all. Like a pinball between flippers, she had ricocheted off the cars either side, and ended up facing forward to clear the last of the hazard. From the crowd that had gathered around her in the gaming cafe, she heard whistles and cheers. The virtual spectators lining the course waved flags and banners.
She accelerated hard down the penultimate stretch and checked her dashboard. She was in 17th position. To finish in the top ten, she would need to come up with something special. Her inventory displayed three items: the Winged Beauties, a Turbo Boost, and some Horrible Hubcaps. She felt sweat on her brow. An image of it trickling into her eyes flashed through her mind and she became hyper-aware of the people gathered round her, watching her every move in the racing simulator. Her friend Burner, an equally skilled driver, would be judging every manoeuvre. Jockey, the owner of the gaming cafe, would be rooting for his ex-student to qualify. There was no time for self-consciousness.
She sped past two guys who had picked a lousy time to tussle. Up to 15th place. As she dropped into second gear for a tight corner she envisioned the road ahead. There would be roadworks on the right – a bunch of cones surrounding a deep pit, and immediately afterwards, a sawmill protruding dangerously into the left of the track. She swerved past each obstacle to perfection and couldn’t help but smirk at the Mustang coupe, lying in two neat pieces at the side of the road. The crowd roared as she went into 14th.
The roundabout was the trickiest section of the entire course: the entrance overlapped with the exit. It was responsible for more write-offs than any other section of track, and the place Burner had come a cropper in his heat. She glanced left. Damn it. A whole pack of cars – the four standing between her and qualification – were about to exit. She couldn’t risk being rammed from the side, yet braking would lose her even more time. She angled Flynn towards the ramp with all the precision she could muster, held her breath and at the split second that the last of the four cars whizzed past, slammed on her Turbo Boost.
Flynn rocketed around the outer edge of the roundabout like a motorbike riding the wall of death at a carnival. Players had voted this the hardest stunt to pull off. Jockey, almost unable to watch, winced through his chubby fingers. She came through in one piece, still in 14th. When the room erupted into applause Burner went crazy, jumping and bounding into the crowd yelling “She might do it, she might bloody well do it!”
Nova approached the final hairpin, right behind the pack of four. She pleaded for one of them to make a mistake, ideally something that screwed the lot of them. Anything to make the finals. She flung round the bend into the last straight, suddenly aware of the throbbing ache in her hands and shoulders from gripping the wheel so tight. Far ahead, the chequered flag had just ushered the victor over the finishing line.
The final straight was the most treacherous section of all. Spectator participation made it unpredictable. First came the cream pies. Some were thrown by hand, others launched by catapults and trebuchets. Thick splotches of whipped cream and custard splatted against Flynn’s windscreen, obscuring the track. She switched her wipers to max and leaned this way and that, trying to catch glimpses of what lay ahead, not caring what she looked like to the assembled throng in the cafe. When the last blob of cream had been wiped clear, she glanced at her dashboard: up to 13th. The guy in the motorised armchair must have taken a pie straight in the face.
Next came the zombies. The crowd had raised the portcullis, releasing the horde onto the track. They were programmed to seek out the taste of racing drivers, preferably those desperate to qualify. It was unusual not to collide with a single one. Most drivers hit a couple each lap. If you hit too many, you risked slowing to a halt and being dragged from your car. It wasn’t something you recovered from. She smiled as Flynn grew some Winged Beauties, thankful she hadn’t used them earlier. The zombies shook their mutilated limbs in frustration as she soared clear of them to gain another two places. She landed between a convertible Mercedes and a Dodge pickup. Behind her, unlucky number thirteen was being served as main course at the zombie banquet, his entrails ripped unceremoniously from the gaping wound in his chest.
Now she needed to avoid a punch in the ribs. Three giant-sized fists, two on the left, one on the right, jabbed in turn, powered by spectators hungry for last-minute bloodshed. It was now or never. She activated the Horrible Hubcaps and gritted her teeth. Gleaming spikes jutted out from her wheels, 8’’ apiece. She lurched right into the convertible. A wild flare of sparks was accompanied by the sound of bursting tyres. In her rearview mirror, she glimpsed the Merc limping to a halt, its driver, a Japanese woman, shaking her fist and screaming obscenities. Oh well, there was no time to sympathise with losers. Besides, the scuffle had slowed her down. She was a full metre from the pickup truck in 10th place, and, being out of items, was unable to spike it, ram it, or in any way mess with it.
Seventy metres to go. The room went quiet. There would be no consolation prize for 11th, only a sick feeling in her stomach and something to regret for the rest of her life. She veered left to avoid the giant fist, stepping so hard on the accelerator that her leg shook. The Dodge had chosen the same route and its driver started punching the air in celebration. Was it all over? She kept her eyes on the road and her foot on the gas. Ahead of her she watched with a detached sort of glee as the third fist broadsided the truck at full speed, sending it crumpling into the side hoardings. Nova yanked the steering wheel as hard as she could, then fought to regain control of Flynn as he lurched from side to side. Her finish, a wild skid across the line was far from dignified, but she’d done it. She’d finished in 10th and secured her place in the Krazy Karting finals. Solarversia had just become a lot more interesting for Nova Negrahnu.