I'm sure some of you know that in addition to this blog, I also have a podcast, "Catawampus Readings," where I analyze and review introductions in various books.
The more I think about introductions, the more I realize that a story is really just a string of introductions: for the story, for characters, for places, for systems, for concepts, for quests. And as with everything else in storytelling, I feel that there needs to be an element of consistency in these introductions in order for them to link together into a proper story.
One of the things that my professors emphasized repeatedly while I was in college for Creative Writing was that the introduction of your story, poem, or song is that it needs to accurately reflect the tone, theme, and pace of the rest of the work. Something I've learned on my own since then might be that while the introduction needs to communicate a lot of information very quickly, it doesn't necessarily need to be in such a way that the audience thinks of as informative.
It's the difference between The Hobbit and Mortal Engines.
The Hobbit: In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, full of the ends of worms and an oozy smell. Nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat. This was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.
Mortal Engines: It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.
In happier times, London would never have bothered with such feeble prey. The great Traction City had once spent its days hunting far bigger towns than this, ranging north as far as the edge of the Ice Wastes and south to the shores of the Mediterranean. But lately prey of any kind had started to grow scarce, and some of the larger cities had begun to look hungrily at London.
The first is almost lecturing (which seems apt, as it was written by a man who made his living doing exactly that), with the tone of "we're learning something new, so pay attention." The second, on the other hand, is making an observation about the world and by consequence implying information that is common knowledge to the people who live there.
So why am I rambling about introductions?
Because I'm trying really hard to make this novel work, guys. SO HARD.
Draven walked along the corridor of the main palace, his footsteps echoing back to him from the walls of dark Meridian granite. The whole complex was built of the stuff, and it was supposed to be a symbol of strength in the land, but it seemed a cold, lonely thing to Draven. Always has. When the tapestries and paintings have been taken down or covered with black drapes during the king's illness, the whole palace had seemed a gloomy, empty place in spite of the servants scuttling around every corner.
No one knows exactly what happened.
No, of course they didn’t. King Naoise sat still and listened, his hands splayed on the heavy wood of his writing desk, worn smooth by his hands, and the hands of his father, and the hands of his great-grandmother, who had sat here drafting more letters than any kingdom needed. All the while, the whispers of his guards tickled his ears.
They say he’s gone off the deep end. Say he’s gone mad. Wouldn’t blame him. Not after…
Let them talk. Let them guess at his reason or lack of it. The whispers would continue regardless, and he would have his war.
Candles guttered, sputtering in the half-light while shadows danced and jerked in every unforgiving corner. The huge, sharp-edged hulk of the sarcophagus threw an unyielding blackness on the wall behind, and even in the flickering candlelight it seemed too heavy, too solid to move. Too... permanent. The King took a shuddering breath, his shadow wavering insubstantially between the brackets of the mausoleum door. No warmth in his fingers. No feeling in his beating heart. No life in his thoughts. She was gone.
There are problems that can only ever be problems in a small town. When the city is large enough, it just swallows you and your problems whole, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re a little creature in a huge meadow and even if you gathered all your allies at once, you’d still be no more than a mosquito bite. But in a little town like Sartos, there are just… too many strings attached.
Guys... send help, please. I'm drowning in iterations, and none of them fit!