I recently read the “Gryphon” trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon (only some of the many to-read books I culled from Penguin Girl’s various book-related blog entries). It’s typical mass-market fantasy fiction… cool fantastical animals, magic, warring mages, destruction, etc.
I found myself rather bored with the first book, and it was only through pure willpower that I finished it and picked up the next. The second book, though, intrigued me and kept me turning its pages. The third book was also interesting to me. A series that I had been willing to write off as “bad writing” ended up sucking me in.
Looking over this surprising reading experience, I think that part of my problem with the first book is something common to a lot of fantasy/science-fiction novels — the reader is thrown into a totally different world too soon with no point of reference. Weird names and italicized terms, references to geography and political powers — all of these are thrown at the reader with no context and hardly any explanation. Perhaps more discerning readers have an easier time with this, but I found my poor head spinning (or maybe that was from having a low-grade fever?) as it tried to process all of this new information. Only after digesting the entire first book — becoming familiar with the geography, the terms, the “rules” — was I able to enjoy the second and third books in the series.
A quick run to my library indicates that the fantasy books I’ve enjoyed from the beginning generally start out with easy-to-relate-to contexts, so I think my theory is holding strong so far.
This is starting to sound more like common sense than some deep insight, however. Of course I would be more comfortable starting out “where I’m at” than diving into something completely different and new.
Nevertheless, here are my Lessons of the Day:
- As a reader: Read the first AND second book of a series if you want to give it a “fair chance.”
- As a fantasy writer: Gently lead your reader into your “world.”
I think that rule #2 applies to many other kinds of writing, including technical writing. This is something I need to keep in mind as I wrote articles/tutorials.
Okay, this is ALL sounding like common sense at this point, but I’ve already gotten this far in my blog post so I may as well put it up. 🙂 Sometimes I just need to point the obvious out to myself.