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.

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

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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[…] 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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Common Sense VS. Science

Who will win out: the scientists who have studied all their lives to solve this world-destroying threat OR this random character with no knowledge of anything who just happens to have a bit of common sense on their side? You guessed it! It’s totally the random character with no background in science.

This drives me nuts! It’s really insulting to all the science-loving characters in a story–and honestly just downright unbelievable anyhow. It’s also a really common trope in many books these days. Along comes the protagonist who just happens to have all the answers without really stopping to think or study the problem at hand. Years of studying has nothing on this character.

It ties in with the whole “chosen one” trope, where the MC is better than experts at basically everything and learns all they need to know almost instantly (or in the heat of battle). It doesn’t quite work that way in real life. If you throw me into an operating room and expect me to adapt and save the life of a dying person who is bleeding out on a table… I’m going to faint instead. And probably take a doctor or a tray of instruments down with me. So, maybe your character isn’t so iffy around blood, but they certainly wouldn’t be able to perform an operation without medical knowledge. I don’t care what you say to justify it otherwise.

When I begin a new story, I stop and think for a moment. Can my character do this? What does my character have to go through to accomplish such a task? In Sky Knight, my protagonist trained for years at an academy before taking to the skies to track down criminals. If she hadn’t trained for so long, the story would have been quite different. It’s good to think about where the character is going and what is needed to make it to the end of the story.

While you might have a good plot line going for you, if your character comes off as all-knowing, it really damages the story. Try to find balance. Have a good build-up, where your character can learn all they need to learn in order to overcome the conflict in the story, and don’t surprise the readers with additional problems halfway through the plot that the character can sudden master because of past studying we were never informed about.

I like to balance this all-knowing problem with having other characters around who all have skills helpful to the plot line. If you have several important characters, give them something to do other than slapping on titles like “the love interest” or “the sidekick” or “the comic relief”. While it’s cool to have a protagonist who can do anything and everything (looking at you, Smallville), it’s more entertaining and believable to have balance amongst your characters.

Happy writing,

Sandra

(NOTE: I actually LOVE Smallville. My issue rests solely with Superman.)

Sky Pirate, Book Two of The Skylands Series

Book two in The Skylands series and the sequel to Sky Knight will be called Sky Pirate. I was hoping to release the book in April but I was so busy with other projects that Sky Pirate had to be pushed ahead. Now I’m back to fully focusing upon this project until it’s completed. Everything else can wait.

Without further ado, here is the cover:

Sky Pirate

There will probably be a few tweaks here and there before the book is released. 🙂

I’m posting the text from the back below, but be warned: If you haven’t read the first book, the plot line will be spoiled. Many spoilers ahead; tread with caution!

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Betrayed by the Skylands and locked away within the Asylum, Taliah Storme attempts to cope with what she now knows about the Vhel’hema government. Being forced into a traitorous lifestyle does not sit well with the former sky knight, though returning to her old employment would be against her very nature.

Taliah must again join forces with sky pirate Captain Erikson Roarke in a fight to destroy the corrupt ways of the Skylands. Yet nothing comes easy–or without a price. Tackling the Skylands will test Taliah’s will, her faith, and her determination to finish what she started. With lives on the line, will she surrender to defeat or push forward to victory?

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There is no release date set yet, but since I’ve just about reached the editing stage of the journey, it shouldn’t be much longer. The ending is still giving me trouble–so many possibilities!–and I need to do a little more research on certain types of machinery.

I’ll have more information posted about Sky Pirate over the next few weeks, so stay tuned! Some new tidbits about the plot line will be added, and I have a fun project to post related to the Skylands.

Happy reading,

Sandra