How To Write a Novel — First Contact

Day 6 of writing my novel in public

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

I’ve started something scary here on Medium. It’s something I’ve done before, but never in public. I have a process that I’m going to follow, and I’d like to share it with you.

If you want to follow the journey from the start, go here.

If you missed yesterday’s, you can find it here.

Day 6 — First Contact

Over the last two days, I have met two important characters in my novel — the main character and the antagonist. I know the main character is an 11-year-old boy who is passionate about baking and can ‘see’ smells. He hides his ability because he doesn’t want to be different.

My antagonist loves eating foods that have an atrocious smell, and he stinks. To disguise this, he wears a hypnotic scent. He seeks revenge over those who made him feel bad for the way he smells and is building a stink bomb.

Today I’m going to plan a scene that involves the pair of them — their first contact. I’ll do some planning on what that scene might be like, what motivates the two of them in the scene, and the outcome.

I don’t imagine that this scene will be the opening scene in the book, but that is part of why I’m choosing to start here. When I start at the beginning, there is too much pressure to get the scene right. Not only does it have to do everything that every other scene in the book does, it also has to introduce characters, grip the reader and explain the context. It is one of the most important scenes to get right and that pressure makes it harder to write. It is like the start of a party when you enter a room full of strangers — getting the conversation going is hard.

So I’m going to start with a scene that must inevitably come somewhere — the main character and the antagonist meet — the first contact scene.

Guidebook first contact scene

I’ve been using two books I love as guidebooks in my writing process — The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis and Gangsta Granny by David Walliams. Before launching into writing a scene of my own, I’m going to look at the first contact scenes in each of these.

In particular, I’m looking for:

  • a description of the antagonist,
  • the motivation and goal of the main character and antagonist.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I’ve identified the main character as Edmund and the antagonist as the White Witch. The first time these two meet is when Edmund has followed Lucy into Narnia and the White Witch arrives on her sleigh. It begins at the end of Chapter Three — Edmund and the Wardrobe and continues through most of Chapter Four — Turkish Delight.

The narrative here is mainly third-person limited from Edmund’s point of view. The book mentions the White Witch earlier, but this is the first time the reader meets her.

— a great lady, taller than any woman that Edmund had ever seen. She also was covered in white fur up to her throat and held a long straight golden wand in her right hand and wore a golden crown on her head. Her face was white — not merely pale, but white like snow or paper or icing-sugar, except for her very red mouth. It was a beautiful face in other respects, but proud and cold and stern.

Edmund has accidentally stumbled into Narnia by following Lucy into the wardrobe. He is curious about where he is but also lost, cold and lonely. He obeys the White Witch, and her Turkish Delight seduces him into telling her all about his siblings. Edmund wants power over his siblings and the witch promises to make him a Prince and then King of Narnia if he brings them to her.

The White Witch is curious about who Edmund is, fearful that his appearance will mess up her plans. She plies him with Turkish Delight and mines him for information on his siblings. Using his lust for power, she gets him to promise to bring his siblings to her.

Gangsta Granny

I’ve identified the main character as Ben and the antagonist as Mr Parker. The first time these two meet is in Chapter 14 Nosy Neighbour.

The narrative is mainly third-person limited from Ben’s point of view. Granny describes him briefly, but we get Ben’s impression of him when he opens the door.

Outside stood a man in a very silly hat… He had a very big nose, which made him seem even nosier than he was, and he already seemed extremely nosy. Because he had a big nose he also had a very nasal voice, which made everything he said, however serious, seem a little bit absurd. but his eyes shone red like a demon’s.

Ben and his Granny have all the jewels that Granny has stolen over the years spread out over the living-room floor. Ben wants to prevent Mr Parker from seeing the jewels so that they won’t get arrested. He tries to keep Mr Parker outside the house, then out of the living room. First, he doesn’t answer the door, then he tells Mr Parker that Granny is doing naked yoga.

Mr Parker wants to know who Ben is, and about the jewels that he has spied through the window. He hopes to catch someone in a crime so that he can be the hero. He knows Ben is lying to him. Granny chases him away in her underwear and threatens to have him arrested for being a peeping Tom.

My first contact scene

Okay, so I’m going to look now at my first contact scene between my main character and my antagonist. I will get into names properly on a later day, but I have been experimenting with some and at the moment the main character is Charlie Quick and the antagonist is Miasmus.

I need a scenario for them to meet, so I’m going to set a timer for 5 minutes to come up with some ideas.

Charlie visits Miasmus in his office building The Smell Tower, which appears to be a perfume store.

Miasmus visits Charlie’s local bakery, wanting to buy it and mechanize it.

Miasmus smells Charlie’s baking and wants to employ him.

Charlie goes to buy his mum some perfume for Christmas and meets Miasmus.

A stink bomb goes off in the shopping centre and Charlie realises Miasmus set it off, but says nothing.

Miasmus is looking for a cake for his son’s birthday and wants to buy one from Charlie, but he has already promised it to someone.

Miasmus is judging the cake competition at the bakery and giving out the prizes. Charlie is a contestant.

Charlie wants Miasmus to loan him some money to start his own cupcake business.

Miasmus wants to buy Charlie’s cupcake business.

Okay, so not too bad. There are definitely some ideas I could work with there. I like the idea of Miasmus’ headquarters The Smell Tower, but I think that would be better coming later, when Charlie tries to work out what Miasmus is up to.

I’m drawn to the stink bomb going off in the shopping centre as that is dramatic and sets up a mystery of why Miasmus would do that. I also like the idea that Miasmus is judging a cake competition that Charlie has entered. Maybe I could combine these two into one scene? Charlie has entered a cake competition, and the judging takes place in the local shopping centre. Miasmus, the famous perfumer, is there to judge the competition and give out the prizes. A stink bomb goes off and they evacuate the shopping centre. Charlie realises Miasmus was behind the bomb.

So Charlie’s goal will be to win the cake competition and his motivation — he wants his local bakery to sell his cupcakes, and that is the prize.

Miasmus’ goal is to clear the shopping centre, but why? Maybe there is something on display at the shopping centre that he wants to steal? Is there a golden cupcake on display? Maybe that is a red herring and Miasmus actually wants to steal Charlie’s recipe for his cupcake? Why? Because he is planning a bigger crime and the delicious cupcake will be part of his plan.

I also need a description of Miasmus. I want him to be a memorable antagonist. I’m going to give myself 5 minutes on the clock to write one.

Miasmus was an unusually hairy man. He had hair sprouting from every place hair should sprout and a few that it probably shouldn’t. Starting at the top, his head was draped in rat tails. They curled and twisted themselves together in a thick black nest. Across his forehead a giant monobrow looked like it had been drawn on in black marker. Black curls drifted out of his ears like smoke, and cheeky black whiskers peeped out from his nostrils. A black forest beard grew from his chin. His clothes looked like they had been stuffed with black straw, but on closer inspection it was just hair. Charlie didn’t want to imagine what he looked like on the beach. He’d probably cause a hairy sea monster panic.

It’s not great — I seem to have fixated on the excessive hair and not much else, but it is a start. When I’m incorporating it into the scene tomorrow I think I’ll choose just some of this to emphasise, and I want to also look at his build and what he is wearing. There will also be his perfume and the underlying stink that it is masking, and from Charlie’s point of view that will be visible somehow.


Day 6 over and I have a plan for the first contact scene between my main character, Charlie, and the antagonist, Miasmus. Charlie wants to win a cupcake competition that will mean he becomes the supplier for the local bakery. Miasmus is judging the competition but lets off a stink bomb in order to steal the winning recipe.

Tomorrow I will write my first scene, where the main character and antagonist meet, in order to discover their voices.

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If you want to try the process with me and write your own novel, I’d love to have you join me on this journey. Put in the comments on how you went with this step.

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