May 20 2008
When fantasy novelists begin a novel with a world-map, that scares me. It is too tempting then to begin the book with a lengthy list of the places in your world, such as the Plains of Woe or Agraria or the kingdom of Lucinel or the Mountains of Rockiness or wherever. Unfortunately, readers don’t really know much (if anything) about these locations and they aren’t very engaging. As a novelist, you have at most three sentences to make us want to keep reading and Lucinel is a word that means literally nothing to us.
When readers pick up a fantasy book, they do not want an atlas. They want a story. Places do matter, but they are most assuredly not the meat of your story. Instead of telling us Lucinel is west of the Plains of the Hobgoblins, tell us about a Lucinel resident who will interest us. “It was only slightly before he saw the elf’s face explode that the reporter had begun to regret signing up with The Lucinel Muckraker.” This immediately immerses us in a story and gets us asking questions. Who’s the elf and why did his face explode? Who’s the journalist? What’s wrong with the Muckraker?
By contrast, introducing a slew of locations raises no questions except for “why should I care about this location?” If readers have to ask themselves why they should care about your writing, they’re probably imminently about to stop reading. Don’t let this happen to you!