WIP: A New Beginning

A little over a week ago, I added a new scene to the beginning of the WIP. It shifts the moment when the reader joins the story from the original scene to fifteen minutes earlier. Amazing, what a quarter of an hour can do, right? This new scene completely changes the tone of the opening chapter, yet still is in keeping with the tone of the entire work. My problem is that I feel the original scene also sets the story and tone correctly. Which should I choose?

Original

Clouds, dark and thick, descend over Mary Winslow as she flees the manor house at Compton Beauchamp. Her throat is hoarse from shouting and her gloved hands shudder; her black walking skirts swirl around her rushing feet and she half-trips. The gravel drive crunches with each step until she slips through the high wrought-iron gate and out into the pale green English lane, where shriveled leaves spin and dance with a small eddy. Her lips press together against what she fears is a sob. There is a figure to her right and she jumps away, scratching her back along the brick wall that flanks the gate on either side. Ten minutes ago was bad enough; now is much worse.

“Took you long enough,” Trentwood says. It is windy, and there is a bite to the air, but he is without a coat and stands spinning the chain of his pocket watch, his black boots gleaming in the gray light.

Mary stares at Trentwood, taking in his sandy hair lined with gray, and his irritated expression. How he stands without needing her arm as a support. How he can watch her without forcing a smile through the ever-encroaching pain. I can’t do this again.

Above, boughs sway and whisper as Trentwood follows the silent Mary down the shadowed, tree-lined lane. “Now you’ll answer me. How could you have accepted that idiot?”

Shadows play across her face. If I ignore him…? Her low voice is raw and ragged when she finally speaks. “I felt alone.”

He tucks away his pocket watch. “In that house?”

Mary’s mouth twists. “Well… lonely, then.” She scrambles over a low opening in the hedgerow to walk across the farmer’s field. Her skirt catches on a grasping bramble, and she yanks it free.

“You’d rather be lonely and alone your entire life than marry that idiot.”

. . .

Update

Mary Winslow suspects today will be worse than most when she finds her fiancé seducing her scullery maid.

The point of coming to the scullery in the first place was to hunt down the cook, whose name Mary cannot remember at the moment, and ask what came of the smoked ham that should have been at breakfast. But when Mary entered the kitchen, she found the stoves untended, and the scullery door open. It was an innocent and natural assumption to think the cook—oh, what is her name?—was back there, already preparing for luncheon. The scraping, shuffling noises certainly corroborated Mary’s suspicion that someone, at least, was in the scullery and might have an answer to her question. After all, one does not pay for ham and then expect it to disappear.

Head tilted to the side, Mary gapes at the back of Mr Spencer’s blonde head, which nuzzles naughty words into the freckled neck of her giggling maid. His pants are undone; the girl’s short kitchen skirts hitched up.

In all fairness, the clandestine couple is only half-hidden in the back refuse closet of the scullery, paying no mind to the pile of vegetable peelings rotting on the floor beneath them. Even with the lamp dimmed, they are plainly visible. They are insulting by their carelessness. Mary’s lip curls, wondering how they can stand the rancid, greasy smell that comes from standing in—oh goodness, is that an actual pig’s snout, there? Does anyone do their cleaning duties anymore?

This is what comes of rash decisions. How many times did Mary warn Mr Spencer that if she heard so much as a murmur of his philandering, that she would end it?

This is more than a murmur.

. . .
 

So here is my question: Should I keep the old beginning, or continue with the new one? FYI, the original still exists, but happens later in the chapter (as in, about two pages later). I have my own opinion, but I’d love to hear yours. Which one grabs you more, as a reader? Does the new scene completely turn you off, or intrigue you?

8 thoughts on “WIP: A New Beginning

  1. I have trouble reading present tense in general. Regardless, I like the update better. The first one seemed to have too much empty drama. The second gave a good, firm reason for there to be a problem.

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  2. I have trouble reading present tense in general. Regardless, I like the update better. The first one seemed to have too much empty drama. The second gave a good, firm reason for there to be a problem.

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  3. I agree with the empty drama… I like the visuals of the original scene, but without the reason behind it the whole thing felt melodramatic for no reason.

    I've often wondered why readers have a problem with present tense. Is it too "in your face"? I've had one reader say they didn't like the present tense, and another say it made the story more personable/immediate. And still another reader who made no remarks on it, so I have to assume they were neutral/apathetic about the issue.

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  4. I agree with the empty drama… I like the visuals of the original scene, but without the reason behind it the whole thing felt melodramatic for no reason.

    I’ve often wondered why readers have a problem with present tense. Is it too “in your face”? I’ve had one reader say they didn’t like the present tense, and another say it made the story more personable/immediate. And still another reader who made no remarks on it, so I have to assume they were neutral/apathetic about the issue.

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  5. I think my problem with the present tense is that one, I'm not used to reading it, so it automatically moves out of my comfort zone, and two, it makes the prose… loud? It is more immediate, yes, but it never stops being immediate. It doesn't break or slow down, or change volume.

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  6. I think my problem with the present tense is that one, I’m not used to reading it, so it automatically moves out of my comfort zone, and two, it makes the prose… loud? It is more immediate, yes, but it never stops being immediate. It doesn’t break or slow down, or change volume.

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  7. Hmm… good point. I like present tense because it cleans up the prose so much. One of my major pet peeves in writing is the "had-had" syndrome, as I like to call it. Example: "She thought she had had time to think it through, but of course, she had not." It's clunky. Whereas with present tense, you get: "She thought she had time to think it through, but of course, she did not." It's more elegant.

    And to be honest, I don't want to immediacy to break. The issues that my character has to deal with on a fundamental level are issues that everyone of us will have to deal with, without escape. I want that point to be subtly clear even on the level of prose construction.

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  8. Hmm… good point. I like present tense because it cleans up the prose so much. One of my major pet peeves in writing is the “had-had” syndrome, as I like to call it. Example: “She thought she had had time to think it through, but of course, she had not.” It’s clunky. Whereas with present tense, you get: “She thought she had time to think it through, but of course, she did not.” It’s more elegant.

    And to be honest, I don’t want to immediacy to break. The issues that my character has to deal with on a fundamental level are issues that everyone of us will have to deal with, without escape. I want that point to be subtly clear even on the level of prose construction.

    Like

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