So after you’ve written your opening scene with a bittersweet celebration, what’s next?
There’s a “day in the life” scene that occupies the space between the opening and the call to adventure.
The bestselling authors of Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone, Twilight, and The Hunger Games use this scene to establish normalcy and to send the hero on a pleasant errand.
Here are five ideas to include in your “Day in the Life” scene and start your writing strong.
1. Get the hero out of the house
There’s only so much you can show through the hero’s interactions at home before it gets boring. Pick up the pace by sending your hero on an errand.
- Harry Potter goes to the zoo: “Half an hour later, Harry, who couldn’t believe his luck, was sitting in the back of the Dursleys’ car with Piers and Dudley, on the way to the zoo for the first time in his life.” (HP Ch.2).
- Bella Swan goes to the grocery store: “So I had my shopping list and the cash from the jar in the cupboard labeled FOOD MONEY, and I was on my way to the Thriftway.” (TW Ch.2).
- Katniss Everdeen goes to the Hob to trade: “On the way home we swing by the Hob.” and “When we finish our business at the market, we go to the back door of the mayor’s house to sell half the strawberries. . .” (HG Ch.1).
2. Reinforce how responsible the hero is
We’ve already evoked sympathy for the hero by showing that his parents are dead or unavailable. Now is the time to show the hero’s independence and responsibility– mainly through his ability to plan ahead. This will make it more believable when the hero needs to take care of himself later.
- Harry enjoys the zoo by avoiding Dudley: “He was careful to walk a little way apart from the Dursleys so that Dudley and Piers . . . wouldn’t fall back on their favorite hobby of hitting him.” (HP Ch.2).
- Bella takes on a grown-up role in her household. “So I requested that I be assigned kitchen detail for the duration of my stay. He was willing enough to hand over the keys to the banquet hall.” (TW Ch.2).
- Katniss plans ahead by choosing her trading partners carefully: “We might do a tad better elsewhere, but we make an effort to keep on good terms with Greasy Sae. She’s the only one who can consistently be counted on to buy wild dog.” (HG Ch.1).
3. Show the hero making the best of it
Your second scene should make the reader start to like the hero, not just feel sorry for him. (I know I just said a happy hero is a boring hero, but that’s in the middle of the novel.) This scene should at least show the hero making the best of his beginning situation.
- Even though Harry is badly neglected, he still enjoys a day at the zoo: “Harry had the best morning he’d had in a long time.” (HP Ch.2).
- Bella doesn’t get to live a carefree teenage life but she’s okay with that: “It was nice to be inside the supermarket; it felt normal. I did the shopping at home, and fell into the pattern of the familiar task gladly.” (TW Ch.2).
- Katniss has a pleasant morning hunting and trading, even though it is Reaping Day: “We easily trade six of the fish for good bread, the other two for salt.” (HG Ch.1).
4. Let the hero reflect on trouble
Give the hero some inner monologue to show how he handles his everyday problems. It’s important to get this information across to the reader now, so they can feel the tension as new problems start piling up.
- Harry is punished for the snake escaping from the zoo, even though he couldn’t help it. “Harry felt, afterward, that he should have known it was all too good to last.” (HP Ch.2).
- Bella is depressed by her move to dreary Forks: “The store was big enough inside that I couldn’t hear the tapping of the rain on the roof to remind me where I was.” (TW Ch.2).
- Katniss experiences some conflict when Gale and Madge clash. She thinks: “But what good is yelling about the Capitol in the middle of the woods? It doesn’t change anything. . . It doesn’t fill our stomachs.” (HG Ch.1).
5. Send the hero some foreshadowing thoughts
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Continue the hero’s inner monologue with some thoughts that foreshadow the coming adventure. This will help make the craziness seem more believable when it gets here– the reader will think back to this scene and think, “Ahhh yes, that makes sense.”
- Harry thinks about all the unexplained run-ins he has had, which foreshadows that he is a wizard. “The problem was, strange things often happened around Harry and it was no good telling the Dursleys he didn’t make them happen.” (HP CH.2).
- As Bella heads to the grocery store, she considers the Cullens and foreshadows their vampiric qualities. “The isolation must be their desire; I couldn’t imagine any door that wouldn’t be opened by that degree of beauty.” (TW Ch.2).
- As Katniss explains the tessarae system to the reader, she foreshadows the sacrifice she is about to make for her sister Prim. “So, at the age of twelve, I had my name entered four times. Once because I had to, and three times for tessarae for grain and oil for myself, Prim, and my mother.” (HG Ch.1).
Why it works
Your reader wants a relationship with your story. But to really relate to the ups and downs that are coming, your reader needs to come in on the ground level.
Sending the hero on an enjoyable errand is a nice way to establish a baseline “normal day,” so that the reader will understand how much the hero’s world is rocked by the upcoming invitation to adventure.
Did you notice that all of today’s quotes are part of the hero’s inner monologue? There is some dialogue, but this scene is all about the hero’s thoughts– it gives the reader a chance to get closer to the hero and actually like him.
Let’s place this “pleasant/normal errand” scene card in the beginning of Chapter 2 on the master outline, where it will serve as a measuring stick for what’s to come.
Tell me your opinion: What do you think establishes normalcy in your story? Is it necessary?
P.S. If you try hovering over this doodle, you’ll see it’s now extra easy to share! Hooray, spread the deconstruction-doodle love! (If you’d like.)