I think this is the fourth time I've done that.
The initial version seemed too concise. Sterile, even. I was going for a minimalist style, but this felt more like it was read from a news report.
So I dove deeper into it, delving into the loneliness and pain that a prisoner of war would experience. And it ended up sounding mopey. Not many people want to spend too much time reading about a character's angst, even when it's more than justified, and I didn't want to use that as the novel's first impression.
So I put more of a focus on the Fugitive's backstory, and the symbolism that was born from it. I kept a lot of the emotion from the second draft, but the whole thing still didn't feel right. It just didn't seem like I was doing him justice as a character.
In the grand tradition of mute people who don't want to talk, he wasn't speaking to me.
A big part of the problem was, I've had a hard time pinning down exactly what he would be feeling during the opening scene. Fear? Loneliness? Dull resignation? Stubbornness? All of the above? In what ratios, then?
In the end, it's come down to trial and error, writing the scene in different ways to see what feels right. It's almost like the Fugitive and I are trying to communicate by miming, drawing pictures, and generally flailing our arms. Except that I'm doing all the flailing, and he's just folding his arms across his chest and staring at me. Maybe he's just pissed about all the crap I put him through, and this is his passive-aggressive way of getting back at me.
At least, that's what the voices in my head say.
Despite all of the above, now that I'm partway through the writing of the fourth draft, I'm a lot happier with the way it's turning out. I've managed to convey a great deal in just a few paragraphs, and I'm striking a better balance between the Fugitive's pain and helplessness, and his intelligence and unyielding will. I'm also tying in his lingering attachment to his comrades and cause, which I'd largely neglected in earlier drafts.
It's been a hard road block to surmount, and to paraphrase a quote whose source I can't find, 90% was written for the wastebasket. But in the end, I think the results will be worth it.
In the meantime, I'd like to invite some audience participation. What are the two most important things you want to see in the first scene of a book? What needs to be established or revealed? I look forward to reading your comments.