It's tough finding the right way into a story sometimes. I must have written something like four or five openings for Flight Of The Vajra (my gonzo far-future space opera shindiggythingy) before finally settling on the one I have now. Some of those alternate openings could have been great, but I think if I'd used them as conceived, they would have come at a debilitating cost to the story as a whole.
The story as I wrote it opens with three main characters. First is Henré Sim, a starship designer -- a sort of Jony Ive of the future, a celebrity, a family man, happy with his work and his lifestyle. He loses all of it when one of his ships disintegrates, killing many people, including his wife and child;. He's doubly chagrined since he himself was on board and managed to survive, when so many others did not. He drops out of his old life and goes into semi-retirement, looking in secret for clues about what might have really happened, to settle his sense of guilt (if he was in fact responsible) and possibly take revenge (if it turns out someone else was). He meets Enid, a girl acrobat working with a traveling circus troupe, who uses him to get an audience with the Kathaya, essentially this universe's (female) equivalent of the Pope. Enid's dad ran off with a cult, and she wants the Kathaya to do something about it, and to her amazement the Kathaya says yes. The three of them end up embroiled in adventure together.
Before I wrote that, though, I drafted a radically different opening.
In this version, Henré dropped out of his old life to become a quasi-criminal figure -- he sells his tech knowledge to the highest bidder for jobs that can't be done above-board. Enid is his ward/sidekick. The two of them accept a job to steal something that turns out to be the Kathaya, held in suspended animation. Once again, adventure ensures, although possibly of a different sort.
This opening had a lot going for it. Being dropped right into a heist scenario is fun! But there were long-term problems with it that ran against the grain of things I knew had to be at the heart of the story.
For one, Henré needed to be someone who only gradually and grudgingly accepted full-blown human contact again. In the final version of the story, he flat-out tells Enid he isn't going to be her dad; she has a dad for that (even if he's just not here right now). For him to have a partner ran against that; for him to be alone from the git-go puts his evolution, his path towards finding a new family after losing his old one, into sharper relief.
The other thing that bugged me about this setup, although it's a problem of lesser magnitude, was how Henré would have a lot more trouble leveraging all the resources from his former life if he embraced an explicitly criminal path. Being able to turn to his old friends turns out to be hugely useful to him and others, and so it didn't make sense in the long run to complicate things unnecessarily. He's already on the outs with some of them for the non-criminal choices he made, so why stack the deck against him all the harder to no clear purpose?
Maybe there was a way to take that "heist" opening for the story and make it work along the lines I ultimately felt mattered most. But I don't think I would have gone to all the places I did with the story as it stands now. It isn't perfect, but I'm proud of it, and I've come to love it for what it is.
Footnote: Remind me sometime to tell you about the "North Korea" version of this story!
Other Lives Of The Mind