I Had To Go Fishing For a New Hook

Back in January I wrote a blog post called ‘How Should I Start My Book? The Solarversia Hook?’. I mentioned the thinking I had done about the opening scene and how much better the new scene was than its predecessor versions. The thing was, I had some feedback from people suggesting that the new scene wasn’t a great place to start either! I actively encourage feedback like it – it’s the only way I’ll develop as a writer. It was the constructive criticism I received from my friend (and beta reader!) Gerard Frith, that really hit the nail on the head:

1) It’s not suspenseful.

2) It doesn’t develop Nova’s character or show her “prison” and why the game will be so important to her.

Great feedback Gerard! Another problem with the old scene is that the reader has no context into which they can place the events that are unfolding. I wanted to start the book like that because I mistakenly believed that starting in “media res” was all about the action. Not so.

The feedback was frustrating – not because I thought it was incorrect, but because I knew it was right, and didn’t know what to do about it. It all became clear a few weeks ago. The new opening scene is below. If you have the time to compare it to the old scene, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

By the way – I just finished the 3rd draft, the last chapter of which is currently sitting with my editor. Once we’ve finalised that, we need to do the 4th draft read-through, which will take us up to 22nd June, when the book goes out to people on the newsletter. It’s all happening rather quickly!


The New Opening Scene

The minute Nova Negrahnu heard about Solarversia she was convinced she was going to love it with every ounce of her being. Enabled by Virtual Reality, a technology that had been promised again and again, but had only just come to fruition, it was what she’d been dreaming of since she was a little girl.

Solarversia sounded like a magical world where the normal rules of existence ceased to apply, a place she could fight monsters, fly through the sky, and explore the Solar System. And all from the comfort of her own home. From the expression on the face of her best friend Sushi Harrison, she wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

“Who was it that sent you the link?” Sushi asked, without looking up from her iPad.
“Burner. But it’s been going mental on Social Media. He and Jono have already signed up.”
Sushi cleared her throat and read out the press release Burner had sent them.
“‘Solarversia is being billed as an exciting new form of entertainment, fit for the 21st Century. An amalgam of virtual, augmented and mixed realities, Spiralwerks, the London-based company behind The Game, claim that it integrates every form of digital entertainment that came before it. One hundred millions players will vie to be the last person standing through a series of challenges that blend racing, fighting, strategy, psychology, lateral thinking, creativity, popularity and cold hard luck. Solarversia will last an entire year and the Grand Champion will be awarded prize money rumoured to equal ten million pounds’.”
Their jaws dropped wide open.
“Ten million?”
“That’s just for the winner. It pays a prize to everyone in the top thousand. And there’ll be tens of thousands of quests throughout the year, paying their own bounties.”
“Oh my god. It even includes Krazy Karting.”
“This is insane. Check out the signup screen.”
The screen was blank, except for two counters and a button. The first counter, displaying the number of signups, had just hit fifteen thousand and was rising rapidly. The second one displayed a timer, and was ticking down to The Game’s start date on the 29th February 2020.
“We have to wait four years for it to start?” Sushi asked. “That’s the day after your eighteenth birthday.”
Nova grabbed her friend’s hand. “Do you think we’ll still be best friends then?”
“Are you kidding? Of course we will. If we can be best friends from two to fourteen, I think we’re safe for life, aren’t we?”
Nova nodded uncertainly. “But Seattle’s such a long way away from Maidstone.”
“Let’s both sign up to play. I bet you my winnings we’re still best friends when it starts.”
“Ok. You’re on. And we better had be.”

The girls spent the next couple of hours learning about the world of Solarversia and all it entailed. It was the ‘puzzle’ aspect of the Gameworld that thrilled Nova the most. Although Krazy Karting was her favourite driving game – she was already ranked in the top few hundred players in the world – her real passion was lateral thinking and puzzle solving.

Brought up on a diet of sudokus, crosswords and jigsaws, she was already thinking about studying Psychology when she was older because it sounded like it might provide an insight into how the brain worked, and therefore be useful to both solving, and creating puzzles of her own. When she stumbled upon a blog post that described the grand prize in more detail she sat bolt upright and inhaled until her lungs were full.

“This is getting ridiculous. You’ll never guess what the Grand Champion gets to do.”
“Apart from working out how to spend ten million pounds on clothes, you mean?”
“Something way more important than that. Solarversia is going to be a quadrennial event. After 2020, the next one doesn’t start until 2024. And the Grand Champion of the first one will help to design the second one. Sush – I’ve just found my dream job. I absolutely, categorically need to win this thing. My life doesn’t make sense without it.”
“If you do win, I’d be happy to attend to the commercial side of the prize for you, ensuring the cash gets spent in a suitable manner. So you can – you know – focus your attention on the design aspect of the prize. That’s so like me, putting others first.”

Nova slumped into a pile of pillows. Game design had been top of her list of jobs since she discovered it was a ‘thing’. That such a job category actually existed, and although blindingly obvious in hindsight, had been a revelation she thought comparable to that of Moses receiving the stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments. Some people designed games for a living. This was the daddy of all such jobs – but she’d need to beat a hundred million people to get it. If that wasn’t the job interview from hell, she didn’t know what was.

Once the girls’ accounts had been verified, they were guided to an area that asked them to create their avatars – three-dimensional representations of their real world bodies. Nova stood in the middle of Sushi’s room, held her arms out and looked straight ahead, while her friend scanned her from head to toe with her phone. The iPad, which she’d leant against some school books on Sushi’s desk, rendered a 3D mesh of her body in real time.

“Hold still will you? Else we’ll be here all night,”
“You can talk, how many times did I have to scan you? Nothing wrong with wanting to look my best in front of a global audience.” She glanced at the screen to assess her avatar, which was slowly revolving about the y-axis. “No way, look what you’ve done to my stomach.”
“I think you’ll find that your love of curry, rather than my phone-handling skills, did that to your stomach. You don’t want to look perfect in any case. There won’t be enough difference between your Normal Avatar and your Super Avatar. Besides, people that know you well, like me and Burner, will know you were sucking it in. You can’t polish a turd.”

The Game required each player to create two avatars: an ordinary, realistic version, and a ‘super’ version, described by the creators as the version of their self the player would ideally want to be, given the chance. Changes to height and weight would be subject to certain limitations in order to ensure that avatars didn’t interfere with Gameworld features such as player transportation, but Spiralwerks had specified that they wouldn’t enforce any other restrictions, claiming it wasn’t their place to impose notions of bodily superiority upon anyone.

Finally content with their figures, they pranced around Sushi’s bedroom to a series of tutorial videos that captured the way they moved. They jumped up and down, drew weapons, shot at targets, hugged each other, and pulled off all manner of dance moves. Every action fed into their own personal Solarversia Avatar Movement Algorithm.

After the moves came the sounds: they spoke in their normal reading voices, then laughed, yee-haaed, shrieked and made numerous other noises that captured them in the throes of death. As it neared midnight, they collapsed on Sushi’s bed, exhausted. It was the night before the Harrison family’s big move from the UK, and Nova was sleeping over at her friend’s house to prolong the moment of goodbye for as long as possible.

“That’s our Normal Avatars sorted then.” Sushi scrolled down her profile page to check what else was required. “We still need to decide what our Super Avatars look like, before we choose our avatar names, catchphrases, vehicles and player numbers.”
Nova cocked her head to one side and dug her little finger into her ear. “It doesn’t start for three and a half years, but I think the Solarversia jingle might already be stuck in my head.”
“That gives me an idea. Why don’t we download the jingle, and use it as a ringtone for one another? Every time it goes, it will remind us of tonight.”

They jolted into action again. Once the jingle was synced to their devices, Nova brushed her hair behind her ears and looked at her friend.

“You are going to call me, right? All the way from the States?”
“Of course I am you eejit. You better not be too busy to speak. I won’t know anyone over there.”
“You’ll be fine. They’ll go nuts over your British accent, while I’m stuck here, Billy-no-mates in the ‘Stone.”
“Don’t be stupid. Life’s going to be so boring without you. Who else do I know who can turn literally anything into a game.”
“That’s true. Making toast will never be the same, huh?”
They laughed. Earlier that evening Nova had devised a whole series of complex tasks and hoops to jump through which culminated in a slice of toast.
“I’m not going to forget you, ok? How about we make a deal? If one of us wins Solarversia, we have to promise to split the prize money with the other one. We’ll be apart, but we’ll be playing it together. For each other.”
Nova smiled. “Solaversia Sisters, eh? So we’ll be rooting for each other all the way? I saw something in the rules about virtual wills. There can only be one winner, so that means one of us is going to die at some point.”
It was a feature that allowed players to leave all the items in their possession to a friend, once they had lost their third and final life in The Game. They watched over each other’s shoulders as they named each other sole beneficiaries of their wills.
“One last thing. If I’m going to Seattle, we need to make it ultra official. Put your headset on and bring up that Halloween app with the fake blood module.”
Nova held out her arm and watched as her friend pressed hers against it, smearing dark red blood all over their wrists.
“Solarversia Sisters forever,” they said in unison.

Nova grinned. It felt good to have a backup plan with the person you trusted most in the world.


Featured image is Fishing by Magdalena Roeseler

Available to use under Creative Commons license.

Tagged: ,

Solarversia is brought to you by Toby Downton