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Introductory Material in First Chapter

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Sonichen, Jul 29, 2015.

  1. Sonichen

    Sonichen Guest

    If you are writing a fantasy novel and your first chapter is introducing the fantasy world setting for the first time to your reader how much material should you plan on having before starting with the characters and dialog? Should it be 500 words, 1000 words?
  2. There is no hard and fast rule. It's about what is enough vs what is not enough. And that all depends on context, skill, and a host of other things. Without reading the chapter it is hard to say. But, a good guideline is to introduce enough to keep interest but not enough to overwhelm the reader.
  3. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Personally, I like to get into the characters ASAP and sprinkle in the details of the world as I go along. Generally speaking, when I pick up a book, it gets around 250-500 words to get to the story before I start feeling sleepy.
  4. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    Let's see what WordCounter thinks.

    142 words before I cut to characters talking. And that's a long introduction by my standards. Compare one of my quicker starts:

    There's worldbuilding almost from the start, but I build outwards, using the characters to establish the setting.
  5. cupiscent

    cupiscent Sage

    For my money, you should start immediately with character or conflict. Dialogue or worldbuilding can tangle themselves along behind, but there should be character, conflict or both from the first paragraph. First sentence, if you can manage it, but a little bit of context makes things more meaningful, so I'm willing to wait a sentence or two. :)

    Even in Feo's first example above, there's both character and conflict in that first sentence: the I and the fall from being Grand Priest. It makes it immediate and gripping in a way that starting with pure worldbuilding - like "On the fourth of May in the year after the flood, the Church of the True Divine ceased to exist in any meaningful sense" - just isn't.

    The best advice on beginnings that I've read recently is that your first line needs to say something hard and true and succinct about your entire story. It's possibly hard to do that if there's no character or conflict! (But not necessarily impossible.)
  6. Kobun

    Kobun Scribe

    Our job as writers is to hook the audience. While there is no hard rule on this, straight undiluted world building is more often more fun for the author than the reader.

    Basically, make the start of your book interesting. If you can do that JUST introducing the world, then so be it. But that's pretty difficult. You can start with characters and conflict right from go and still work world building in as you tell the story.

    Jim Butcher does a great job of this, if you wanna see it in action. Retribution Falls is a good book that displayed this too, though I've forgotten the author's name.

    Edit: His name is Chris Wooding and actually Retribution Falls' first chapter is a great study in general of how to open your book.
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2015
  7. Mark

    Mark Scribe

    I like to introduce the main character and issue as soon as possible. Hopefully you can build the world at the same time.
  8. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    One thing to keep in mind is to not overwhelm the reader with information. Even if you write a really good introduction to your world they probably won't remember half of it by the end of the chapter.

    One suggestion is that only explain that which is necessary for your reader to understand what's happening at that very time. They don't need to know the exact details of why the Bad Guy is chasing your main character, they just need to know that A Bad Guy is chasing your main character. Leave the nitty gritty to later.
    Don't leave it out completely though. It might be that if you leave just enough information for the reader to get by, they will be more eager to learn the background details later on. Then you can give them something of an insight later, and they'll appreciate it all the more.
    Kobun likes this.
  9. goldhawk

    goldhawk Troubadour


    When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.

    The first chapter of The Lord Of The Rings is background information on hobbits. But it is all about Bilbo planning his birthday party and his nosy neighbours pestering him for details. It contains action, dialogue, and a minor conflict.

    The second chapter is also background material, this time about Sauron and the Ring. It is mostly a dialogue between Gandalf and Frodo.

    Take a tip from the masters and get your stroy moving from the start.
  10. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    Great example. Tolkien introduces his world through his characters and their dialogue. The vast majority of readers will be bored to tears if you spend 50 let alone 500 words describing the setting at the beginning of the chapter. You could get away with that sort of thing once, because decent fantasy books were much more rare, but now there's so much choice, you need to entertain your readers from the outset.
    Kobun and goldhawk like this.
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    For myself, whenever I find myself writing such introductory material, I'm really writing for *myself* not for the reader. It's what I think they should know. I write it because I need to write it. I need to think my way through it. But it never survives an edit.
    Feo Takahari likes this.
  12. Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner Scribe

    Your story begins with the very first word. And your story is unlikely to be about what your world looks like!

    It's a basic mistake to think you have to stop the story and explain everything to the reader. You don't need to - you have an entire novel to explain everything you need to. And those descriptions and backstory are best dripped in where most needed.
    Kobun likes this.
  13. Butterfly

    Butterfly Auror

    None. Start with the character and filter your world through the eyes of your POV character right from the beginning. Describe the world as your MC moves through it and keep all the information relevant to the scene at hand.

    Of course, that's just a suggestion. You don't have to do so if you don't want to.
  14. Kobun

    Kobun Scribe

    Precisely. It's why so many books are written from a pov that's ignorant of the world. They can world build from pov without intrusion and with impunity.
  15. Addison

    Addison Auror

    After writing several very full, boring, info-burdened first chapters I learned the core essentials of introductory chapters.
    In the first chapters you only need to cover the W's. Who, What, Where, Why, Why a reader should care. The last two whys are different.
    Who: obviously the protagonist, any relevant side characters and if you can mention the antag- if it's that kind of story-then do that.
    What: What kind of story is it? What kind of world is it? What is the protag's world like and what changes it?
    Where: Where is the story taking place? Completely different world? Some place in this world? The afterlife? Also when applies if it's historical-fantasy.
    Why: This is the center of the starting conflicts. If your character is unhappy, why? Why are they doing-or not doing-such a thing to change it? Why is the person(s) that changes their world there at that point and time to change it? Gandalf didn't go to the Shire to find the ring and pull the hobbits into a world-saving adventure. He visited the Shire for Bilbo's birthday at which event he witnessed events which started the ball rolling.
    Why a reader should care? Why should someone care that Logan the farmer makes the choice to keep the injured griffin secret? Why should they care that such a king is dying? Why should they care that the two brothers are making a long trip through the mountains?

    They last question should be answered, or have the answered foreshadowed, by the first turning point. The Door of No Return.
    Happy Writing!

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