Never open your story by describing a character looking out a window at the turbulent sea, watching the clouds, the rain or standing on a cliff overlooking the ocean.
Over the years, I’ve read countless blog posts by authors and agents who say that this type of opening scene is the kiss of death for any writer. I’ve always thought it sounded romantic and moody, but I’ve also read that some agents admit to not looking beyond the first paragraph of a new manuscript if the story opens with a scene similar to what I’ve described. Hmmm.
Well, I beg to differ. Not because I am feeling ornery this morning, I’m not. I just believe that some writing rules, when it helps your story and story line to break them, should be broken. BUT! Please, if you choose to describe your opening scene like this, for goodness sake…describe the window!
So, let’s say the year is 1901 and you live in the seafaring coastal town of Barrio Playa de Ponce, on the outskirts of the colonial city of Ponce, Puerto Rico. You survived the United States military invasion of your homeland and miraculously, you survived the longest and most devastating hurricane in recent history-Hurricane San Ciriaco that claimed the lives of 3,400 men, women and children across the West Indies.
Early one evening, you hear the distant rumble of thunder, the winds pick up and rain begins pinging off your tin roof. I’m guessing that you and every member of your family run to the nearest window in five seconds flat. I know I would. I’d be checking the skies, the clouds, the mood of the rain and wind. I would check the horizon for any sign of more military vessels. I would also recheck my house, specifically, the roof, to make sure I am ready for whatever may be brewing out to sea. Just in case.
My historical novel, A DECENT WOMEN, opens at the beginning of a tropical storm. This opening is very natural to me. I was born on the island of Puerto Rico and I’ve experienced many tropical storms. Hurricanes, tropical storms, tempests, cyclones and storms are a way of life on the islands. Hurricane season, from June to November, is a genuine threat and taken into consideration when planning weddings, anniversary or birthday celebrations but then again, you can’t stop living. I never consider scheduling my flights to Puerto Rico and the islands only in the spring or winter months, so that I am certain to miss a hurricane. If I have the opportunity to travel, I go ahead with my plans.
Since I wrote the first outline for A DECENT WOMAN, I visualized my novel opening this way. Because life can be random, at times chaotic and unpredictable, I chose for a child to be born during a lesser storm and have a midwife standing sentry. Not unusual and not rare. The midwife is my protagonist, Ana Belén and the child, Serafina Martínez, grows up to be Ana’s loyal, trusted and beloved comadre. They are trapped inside a small wood house at the edge of the Caribbean Sea, but life goes on in the islands despite the weather and what Mother Nature has planned.
I continue with the forces of nature throughout my novel. There is an earthquake in the middle of the story, the highest part of the story arc, because it is historically accurate . At this point in the story, everything seems lost. It is a fitting climax and right after, the rebuilding begins for the city and my characters. A cool aguacero, a passing rain shower, closes my story with healing and cleansing in the mountains of Yayuya.
Mother Nature is an important character in my story and if I’m honest, she is the main protagonist of A DECENT WOMAN. The weather can set the mood of your story and can be the harbinger of things to come. It is the musical accompaniment to your scene or chapter. Symbolically, the comparisons between nature and life seem endless to me. Go for it.