Writing a Fantasy Novel Intro

So I’ve gone over a few topics concerning high-fantasy novels, but I haven’t really touched upon what makes a great first impression when opening a 900-1200 page novel. Obviously the hook needs to be great for you to invest your time in reading a monster that size. I’d like to bring in The Fellowship of the Ring as an example. While The Lord of the Rings is one of my favourite epic fantasies, the first chapter is incredibly long and tedious, to the point where many potential fans stopped reading after ten pages of party planning and paragraphs of descriptions that are all irrelevant to the plot.

Of course, that was a different time and fantasy writers have changed the way they write over the years.

Let’s take a look at The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss.

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It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

~

I absolutely LOVE this first line. It reeks of mysteriousness.

~

The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by the things that were lacking.

~

Now we have the first part of the silence, and it creates the setting. The paragraph continues on, describing what the silence lacked, before showing us the next part of the silence.

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Inside the Waystone a pair of men huddled at one corner of the bar. They drank with quiet determination, avoiding serious discussions of troubling news. In doing this they added a small, sullen silence to the larger, hollow one.

~

This is intriguing to us: Why are the men so quiet? Why aren’t they talking about the idle gossip around town? What do they find so troubling?

~

The third silence was not an easy thing to notice. If you listened for an hour, you might begin to feel it in the wooden floor underfoot and in the rough, splintering barrels behind the bar. It was in the weight of the black stone hearth that held the heat of a long dead fire. It was in the slow back and forth of a white linen cloth rubbing along the grain of the bar. And it was in the hands of the man who stood there, polishing a stretch of mahogany that already gleamed in the lamplight.

The Waystone was his, just as the third silence was his. […] It was deep and wide as autumn’s ending. It was heavy as a great river-smooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.

~

We have a main character, and he is interesting. Now I want to know why he’s waiting to die, or if the troubling news the huddled men are avoiding is the same kind of troubling thoughts this man has.

I found this introduction so intriguing that I hurried onward towards the next chapter. It’s fairly long, so I won’t go over every detail like in the introduction.

~

It was a felling night, and the usual crowd had gathered at the Waystone Inn. Five wasn’t much of a crowd, but five was as many as the Waystone ever saw these days, times being what they were.

~

We get a few more hints in the opening line about the world’s situation. Times are troubling and it gives an eerie feel to everything. The next few pages introduces the men who were huddling in the tavern, and one of them tells a sort of tale that to some is simply a bedtime story, while to others it seems like more. We learn a few things about the world this way, and about its religion/history. Then another character stumbles into the inn after being attacked by one of the creatures related to the story, and things become eerily real for everyone.

That’s where the barkeep, our main character named “Kote”, comes to the rescue, and he becomes even more mysterious. He knows things others don’t, he keeps company with a creature human in appearance but stranger than mortals, and he has several names to which he answers to. Then we get these lines:

~

[…] without willing it his [Kote’s] eyes fell on the chest at the foot of the bed.

It was made of roah, a rare, heavy wood, dark as coal and smooth as polished glass. Prized by perfumers and alchemists, a piece the size of your thumb was easily worth gold. To have a chest made of it went far beyond extravagance.

The chest was sealed three times. It had a lock of iron, a lock of copper, and a lock that could not be seen.

~

We’re not buying that you’re just a simple innkeeper, Kote. Everything in this chapter screams that this character is shrouded in a complex mystery, and it’s honestly extremely fun to read. He wants to live normally and at peace, but his past seems to be catching up to him in some way. What secrets his past holds, I don’t yet know. I’m only a quarter way through the novel, but the introduction just grabbed me and reeled me in so fast I couldn’t turn down this book.

This is a fantastic example of a compelling hook. It summarizes important points, doesn’t give away too much, doesn’t tell or over-explain, and it leaves you wanting more. It slapped the “conflict in the first chapter” rule in the face and shined on its own merit. The pacing was great, also; there were no extreme details on the setting or the people–just snippets to give you a general picture. I’ve read far too many fantasy novels with entire pages of describing a tree or a rock in the intro (looking at you, Goodkind) and this book’s intro was certainly refreshing.

Now to finish it.

Happy writing,

Sandra

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2 thoughts on “Writing a Fantasy Novel Intro

  1. I agree with you on just how important a great intro and hook is, especially for a fantasy novel, and especially one that’s pretty big in length. You have to do something to make sure that the readers have a reason to make the investment you’re asking for, and whatever else you may have that’s great in your story, if the reader never gets there, it doesn’t matter all that much.

    I do like the example you give, too. Adding in mystery and making the reader ask more- and want to discover more- works twice, both because it makes them want to learn about the characters, and it makes them wonder more about the setting, too. Fantasy tends to have double duty in that regard, building up both characters and the rules of the setting, so making both of them something the reader is interested in makes the job a lot easier.

    So, good points, and I’ll definitely keep them in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

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