I’m working on a new novel, tentatively titled Freedom’s Fires. Below is a scene that occurs early on. It’s main goal is to introduce the primary protagonist, Ryan Freeman. He’ll be one of three protagonist characters that the story will explore deeply.
The scene’s secondary goal is to further introduce the reader to current living conditions like the disappearance of grocery stores and the rise of black markets selling contraband.
On the left is the first draft of the scene while on the right is the latest draft.
April 20, 2069, 4:56 a.m. EDT
Barton Soroken walked the grassy quad that the dormitories of Franklin University faced. With his enhanced vision activated, he discerned his surrounding nearly as good as if the sun shone from high above. As he walked toward Thayer Hall, he noticed Ryan Freeman bounce down the steps to the sidewalk.
What is he doing up so early on a Saturday? What is it with this year’s recruits? I decide on the best conditions in which to approach them, and they thwart my plan.
Without much of a choice, he followed Ryan, keeping his distance. He’d set aside this weekend to approach the three recruits for the Alliance. His schedule didn’t have room for delays. He would either approach Ryan this morning or pass him over. He needed to return to Alaska for more meetings on Monday.
After several of blocks, Barton turned into a side alley and discontinued the visage of a young marine. He removed his trench coat, folded it over his arm, and reemerged to see Ryan make a right turn at the corner. This way, if Ryan had noticed someone behind him, he wouldn’t think he was being followed.
Barton followed and made the same turn, only to see Ryan a full block away—Ryan was walking into town before dawn. Several blocks later, they entered a failed commercial district. The building were dirty and random windows were broken.
With his right hand, Barton reached into his trench coat pocket and pulled out an olive. He activated it and guided it toward Ryan. It followed him as he turned into an alleyway.
At a stock room door no different than any other in the alley, Ryan knocked twice, paused a beat, and knocked twice again. A second later, the door opened, and Ryan entered.
Barton quickly maneuvered the olive inside before the door closed. Ryan walked through a short hallway into a large, open space. Tables lined either side of four aisles. It was like someone had transported a Middle Eastern bazaar into the building. Ryan passed tables selling illegal drugs and prohibited works like holos and old-fashioned movies on physical media. He stopped for a minute at a table selling unapproved books, looking intently at several, including 1984, Atlas Shrugged, and the Guilty Innocent.
Ryan moved on to a table holding comestibles. He greeted the proprietor with a warm handshake. The proprietor reached under the table for a box of chocolate bars. Ryan also pointed to several items like bread, peanut butter, crackers, and cans of soup, which the proprietor bagged. Ryan exchanged some hard currency for the bag and headed for the nearest exit leading to the alley.
Barton commanded the olive to follow Ryan. He positioned himself at the alley’s entrance and leaned against the building, watching the image the olive was transmitting. He adopted the marine persona as he donned his trench coat.
Ryan strolled up the alley, keeping an eye on the entrance. A few seconds later, Ryan walked passed him. Barton
He matched Ryan’s pace and said, “Ryan Freeman, what’re doing in this part of town so early?”
April 20, 2069, 4:56 a.m. EDT
Barton walked the dewy quad that the dormitories of Franklin University bounded. With his enhanced vision of the near infrared spectrum activated, he discerned his surroundings well, though with a green tinge. As he walked toward Thayer Hall, he noticed someone bounce down the steps to the sidewalk. The young man was about six foot tall and blond. Before the young man turned, Barton got a good look at his face—it was Ryan Freeman.
Unbelievable. I want to talk with him alone in his dorm room, so I arrive early on a Saturday morning. Any normal kid’d be there, but not him. I don’t have time for problems before I have to leave for Alaska to discuss Tessa’s proposal, and there’s still another that I must see today.
He followed Ryan off campus, along the blacktop walking path that paralleled the four-lane road leading into Haydenville. This stretch of road bordered housing subdivisions, which meant that lampposts where placed at regular intervals along the walking path. He stepped off the walking path and merged with the shadows as much as possible. He alternated between watching Ryan and where he stepped, not wanting to tramp and break any deadfall, which would alert Ryan to his presence.
Why is he walking into town so early on a Saturday? He doesn’t have a part-time job, and the university kids didn’t usually associate with the townies. There’s one possibility, but I don’t see why Ryan would risk his assigned job upon graduation to do it. Curious…
Ryan continued at an easy, steady pace with his hands in his coat pockets as the walking path turned into a sidewalk as they entered Haydenville where there wasn’t any shadows for Barton to hide among. At the next side alley, Barton ducked in. I can’t look like I’m following him. If he’s spooked, I’ll never discover what he’s doing or ever get a chance to speak with him.
With his right hand, Barton reached into his trench coat pocket and pulled out an olive. He poked his head around a building, aimed the olive at Ryan, and placed it in auto-follow mode.
It followed Ryan as he walked to an abandoned strip mall, which public services ignored, allowing dirt and litter to accumulate. A few of the storefront windows where cracked or outright broken. The grocery store’s windows were boarded up. When it had gone out of business after the government took over food distribution, the rest of these businesses didn’t stand a chance. A couple of years later, the last of them had closed its doors for the last time. These days, places like this harbored criminals and those people who refused to comply with the few requirements to obtain free government housing.
What a shame. Businesses will never reoccupy this location as it stands now, and the government won’t resume services until they do. This strip mall is doomed.
Ryan walked behind the stores to the delivery area. At the dingy door next to the grocery store’s loading docks, Ryan knocked twice, paused a beat, and knocked twice again. A second later, the door opened, and Ryan entered.
Barton took control over the olive and quickly maneuvered it inside before a large, sour-looking man closed the door. Ryan walked into a large, open space filled with tables lining either side of two aisles.
Ryan passed a table selling medicines difficult to obtain, according to the sign. The next table offered hard recreational drugs. Inside the clear locking baggies was cocaine, heroin, and pills. Barton couldn’t precisely say what types of pills were for sale, but there was enough variety that he was certain that there were ups, downs, and hallucinogens. Ryan passed, barely glancing at the table. Barton exhaled—he wouldn’t recruit a druggie, regardless of his other qualities.
The next table offered prohibited works like holos and old-fashioned movies on physical media. He looked over the selection for second before moving on to the next table that held printed books. Here, Ryan read the back covers of a few: 1984, The Fountainhead, and The Innocent Guilty.
He may be easier to recruit than I originally thought.
Without purchasing any books, Ryan moved on to a table holding comestibles. He greeted the proprietor with a handshake and a smile. The proprietor reached under the table for a box of chocolate bars. Ryan also pointed to several items like bread, peanut butter, and soup and crackers, which the proprietor bagged. Ryan exchanged some hard currency, a rarity to have these days, for the bag and headed for the exit.
Ryan took the same route out of town. When he finally walked past the side alley, Barton emerged and caught up to him. “Ryan Freeman, what’re doing in this part of town so early on a Saturday?”
Obviously, the right is longer, but longer doesn’t equal better. In fact, I found that longer is often worse. However, the right goes further to accomplish the goals of the scene. It expands on wares offered by the black market, which I feel is telling of the culture.
Also, it simplifies the trip into town, so that the reader can follow it better. In a movie, where visuals rules, the original may be interesting, but in print, it’s harder to follow. The other fact is that anyone behind Ryan so early in the morning is suspicious, regardless of whether it’s the same person or not.
I’m fairly happy with this scene as a set up. The payoff is the next scene where the reader gets know Ryan much better.