Author Topic: Throwing your readers into the deep end!  (Read 1175 times)  

Offline kw3000

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Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« on: February 09, 2018, 03:23:42 PM »
How much information do you give your audience when you tell your stories? Do you prefer to throw your readers into the proverbial forest without a compass, or are you more in the camp of providing a map or perhaps detailed world building with more complete backstory and lore? Are you more a 'show'-er than a 'tell'-er? Or are you the opposite?

Personally, I like the idea of throwing readers into a story, right into the deep end at the outset where they're more or less forced to play catch up. I could be doing readers a disservice with that approach - I hope not, but I feel like doing that engages a reader's imagination since they have to fill in bits of story where I've purposefully left things out. I don't know, I guess that's what keeps writing fun for me, and I hope it makes things fun for the reader as well. But I see virtue in the opposite approach too.

How about you? What's your storytelling philosophy in this regard?

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Offline Norman Steele Taylor

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2018, 03:52:55 PM »
I tend to focus more on quick plot progressions. By dropping hints and working with one small sketch at a time, I end up luring the reader deeper and deeper into the book.

The key? A killer first sentence. I take my cues from the legendary Gabriel Garcia Marquez.


Offline SueSeabury

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #2 on: February 09, 2018, 03:59:07 PM »
I always do my best to put something 'hooky' and likely to raise questions (in a good way) in the beginning, but I don't toss them in too deep. Unlike an actual forest that s/he must exit in order to eat dinner/sleep in a warm bed/etc, a reader can get fed up and shut the book, never to open it again.


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Offline Flay Otters

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2018, 03:59:12 PM »
I'm not a huge fan of in medias res, although it worked for John Milton :)
I prefer what I have come to term the "Goldfinger Opening".*
This involves a more or less semi-related action scene at the beginning to hook the audience, that allows for a pause afterwards where any useful exposition can take place.
I also don't usually go into deep descriptions of characters, in order to keep things moving. Every so often through the prose I throw in another descriptor, slowly building a description of the character over time.

*see movie of Goldfinger, or read the book.

Online Ryan W. Mueller

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #4 on: February 09, 2018, 04:10:11 PM »
I like to find a happy medium. Give the reader enough information that they're not lost, but not so much information that they're bored.

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Offline LovingLife139

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #5 on: February 09, 2018, 04:54:57 PM »
I tend to get really into my world-building, but I don't throw it all at readers at once. I do provide maps for my fantasy books because they are focused on both globe-trotting and war (battle tactics come into play with the environment, army locations, etc.), and I think readers could get lost if they like to follow along with maps and I didn't provide them. I draw both locations and characters of my books in my free time. I've built models of all the main characters of my current series and I've thought about building models of different locations as well. I draw out battle tactics on paper to be sure things make sense given the environments and armies involved. I build my locations and characters from the ground up while considering all avenues of realism (this character comes from this locale, which equals different dialect, for one example; or this location is underground, so it must have methods of ventilation, etc.). Usually, these things are mentioned as passing details to the readers, but the research involved sometimes takes me hours. Thus, world-building alone is like a full-time job for me, but I only provide the details that I think will help readers be immersed.

For the readers that like delving into lore, I have everything else on my website. I try to only include the necessary details in my books, but for those who want to know more, it's there. Glossaries, maps, timelines, facts about languages created, etc. I'm the kind of person who eats that stuff up, so I keep it all on my website for my own benefit as well. This way, readers aren't forced to slog through a bunch of backstories that hold the main plot back, but it's there if they want it.

Like you mentioned, however, there are mysteries and questions sometimes left unsolved or unanswered. It allows the readers to form the answers to these questions in their mind and think what they will. If you answered everything in your books or in extra lore, there would be no wonder left.

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Offline LilyBLily

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #6 on: February 09, 2018, 05:12:17 PM »
I've seen the Goldfinger opening in many urban fantasy and paranormal novels. It's a promise that there will be lots of action even in a weird world whose rules will have to be explained.

Offline she-la-ti-da

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #7 on: February 10, 2018, 02:56:56 AM »
Quote
Give the reader enough information that they're not lost, but not so much information that they're bored.

And start as close to the action as possible. It's not always necessary to throw a reader into the middle of something, especially if you're going to leave them to figure it all out themselves without some data to work with. I know I'd drop a book like that, there's far too much on my TBR pile to mess around with authors like that.
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Offline Flay Otters

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #8 on: February 10, 2018, 05:48:37 AM »
I've seen the Goldfinger opening in many urban fantasy and paranormal novels. It's a promise that there will be lots of action even in a weird world whose rules will have to be explained.
Exactly!

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #9 on: February 10, 2018, 06:28:38 AM »
How much information do you give your audience when you tell your stories? Do you prefer to throw your readers into the proverbial forest without a compass, or are you more in the camp of providing a map or perhaps detailed world building with more complete backstory and lore? Are you more a 'show'-er than a 'tell'-er? Or are you the opposite?

Personally, I like the idea of throwing readers into a story, right into the deep end at the outset where they're more or less forced to play catch up. I could be doing readers a disservice with that approach - I hope not, but I feel like doing that engages a reader's imagination since they have to fill in bits of story where I've purposefully left things out. I don't know, I guess that's what keeps writing fun for me, and I hope it makes things fun for the reader as well. But I see virtue in the opposite approach too.

How about you? What's your storytelling philosophy in this regard?

My series has a map of the world right at the front of the book and I pepper in the details of the world as it's relevant or when I have a spot where exposition feels natural.

I usually return books that start with an info dump on backstory, world-building, etc. Too boring for me.
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Offline Anarchist

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #10 on: February 10, 2018, 06:37:20 AM »
Speaking as a reader...

I'm impatient. Info-dumps discourage me from reading further.

The only exception (for me) is when the writing is exquisite.

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #11 on: February 10, 2018, 06:46:29 AM »
I try to balance it as much as possible, putting enough up front that someone unfamiliar with the genre won't feel lost while someone who's hardcore won't feel like they're reading something for complete noobs. If I do it right, I can keep the new reader interested enough that they don't mind a steep learning curve later.

Offline Douglas Milewski

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #12 on: February 10, 2018, 07:31:21 AM »
Since readers can't know everything before the story, they must start in the story. In fact, the story is the process of telling the readers all that information.

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Online C. Gold

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #13 on: February 10, 2018, 09:28:18 AM »
Take Jim Butcher's epic fantasy:

Prologue
Spire Albion, Habble Morning, House Lancaster

"Gwendolyn Margaret Elizabeth Lancaster," said Mother in a firm, cross voice, "you will cease this nonsense at once."
"Now, Mother," Gwendolyn replied absently, "we have discussed the matter at length upon multiple occasions." She frowned down at the gauntlet upon her left hand and rotated her wrist slightly. "The number three strap is too tight, Sarah. The crystal is digging into my palm."
"Just a moment, miss." Sarah bent nearer the gauntlet's fastenings, eyeing them over the rims of her spectacles. She made a series of quick, deft adjustments and asked, "Is that better?"
Gwendolyn tried the motion again and smiled. "Excellent. Thank you, Sarah."


Butcher, Jim. The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut's Windlass (p. 1). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

...

Chapter 1
Albion Merchant Ship Predator

Captain Grimm flicked the telescoptic up off of the right eyepiece of his heavy goggles. The Auroran airship was a faint blot against the thick clouds below, while Predator was hidden high above in the aerosphere by the glare of the sun. A storm was roiling through the mezzosphere, the layer of heavy cloud and mist that lay beneath them, but there was still time to reach the enemy vessel before the storm began to interfere with the ship's systems.


Butcher, Jim. The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut's Windlass (p. 11). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Jim Butcher dives right in. He doesn't go into infodumps about his world, the weapons, the airships, or the spires. You learn as the characters navigate the world, interact with others, and use things. The gauntlet gets used in the prologue and the aeroship is involved in a very intense strategic battle which utilizes this world's means of empowering airships and the world building of the sky it travels in. He is able to combine nail biting excitement that has you turning the pages while also informing you of the world through inference.

I prefer this method of leaping into the water and swimming with the fishes. 
« Last Edit: February 11, 2018, 05:52:15 PM by C. Gold »

Offline kw3000

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #14 on: February 10, 2018, 09:50:02 AM »
Take Jim Butcher's epic fantasy:

Prologue
Spire Albion, Habble Morning, House Lancaster

"Gwendolyn Margaret Elizabeth Lancaster, said Mother in a firm, cross voice, you will cease this nonsense at once.
Now, Mother, Gwendolyn replied absently, we have discussed the matter at length upon multiple occasions. She frowned down at the gauntlet upon her left hand and rotated her wrist slightly. The number three strap is too tight, Sarah. The crystal is digging into my palm.
Just a moment, miss. Sarah bent nearer the gauntlets fastenings, eyeing them over the rims of her spectacles. She made a series of quick, deft adjustments and asked, Is that better?
Gwendolyn tried the motion again and smiled. Excellent. Thank you, Sarah.


Butcher, Jim. The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut's Windlass (p. 1). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

...

Chapter 1
Albion Merchant Ship Predator

Captain Grimm flicked the telescoptic up off of the right eyepiece of his heavy goggles. The Auroran airship was a faint blot against the thick clouds below, while Predator was hidden high above in the aerosphere by the glare of the sun. A storm was roiling through the mezzosphere, the layer of heavy cloud and mist that lay beneath them, but there was still time to reach the enemy vessel before the storm began to interfere with the ships systems.


Butcher, Jim. The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut's Windlass (p. 11). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Jim Butcher dives right in. He doesn't go into infodumps about his world, the weapons, the airships, or the spires. You learn as the characters navigate the world, interact with others, and use things. The gauntlet gets used in the prologue and the aeroship is involved in a very intense strategic battle which utilizes this world's means of empowering airships and the world building of the sky it travels in. He is able to combine nail biting excitement that has you turning the pages while also informing you of the world through inference.

I prefer this method of leaping into the water and swimming with the fishes.

This is an excellent example, thank you for sharing it, now I really want to read that book!  8)

Ken Ward

Offline notjohn

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #15 on: February 10, 2018, 11:20:30 AM »
Quote
Do you prefer to throw your readers into the proverbial forest without a compass,

In media res, by all means!
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Offline ellenoc

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #16 on: February 10, 2018, 11:58:23 AM »
As a reader -

I'm all for an opening with things happening, but if I can't get oriented quickly, I'll abandon the book. I'm sure of that because I've done it many times. Action openings, yes; openings with no grounding, no.

This my favorite example of a mid-action opening done well:

The mingled smells of hot horse and cold river mist filled my nostrils. I could hear only the swish and thud of galloping hooves and the occasional sharp click of horse-shoes striking against each other. Behind me, strung out, rode a group of men dressed like myself in white silk breeches and harlequin jerseys, and in front, his body vividly red and green against the pale curtain of fog, one solitary rider steadied his horse to jump the birch fence stretching blackly across his path.

Admittedly I'm a horse person and the description of riding on a cold, foggy morning is fantastic, but I believe even a non-horse person would understand immediately that opening is in the middle of a horse race and a race over jumps. As it happens Dead Cert was the first Dick Francis (RIP) mystery I ever read and addicted me to his books immediately.

Offline gilesxbecker

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #17 on: February 10, 2018, 06:04:19 PM »
I'm not a huge fan of in medias res, although it worked for John Milton :)
I prefer what I have come to term the "Goldfinger Opening".*
This involves a more or less semi-related action scene at the beginning to hook the audience, that allows for a pause afterwards where any useful exposition can take place.
I also don't usually go into deep descriptions of characters, in order to keep things moving. Every so often through the prose I throw in another descriptor, slowly building a description of the character over time.

*see movie of Goldfinger, or read the book.

In media res is alright if you are in a familiar genre. Others have already explained the worlds of steampunk, Martian colonies, etc. But what if one were thrown into the world of a remote Andean village or the ancient Tocharians? There'd be some 'splainin to do.

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Offline TromboneAl

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #18 on: February 11, 2018, 03:10:18 PM »
I'm not a huge fan of in medias res, although it worked for John Milton :)
I prefer what I have come to term the "Goldfinger Opening".*

Yes, I always put a seagull on my characters' heads at the start.



Ha ha. But you're right that it's subtly different from in medias res. Bond is usually shown successfully completing some earlier assignment that's unrelated to the main plot of the movie.

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Offline Flay Otters

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #19 on: February 11, 2018, 04:05:08 PM »
Ha ha. But you're right that it's subtly different from in medias res. Bond is usually shown successfully completing some earlier assignment that's unrelated to the main plot of the movie.
All seagulls aside...
As alternatives you can use the From Russia With Love opening, where we see the strength and focus of the bad guys that our hero will be up against. Or the Dr. No opening, where we see a terrible event that seems unrelated but will become the catalyst for our hero to enter the fray.
With any of these openings we get the BTTW action we crave, but maintain the more-or-less linear storyline (I hate flashbacks unless they explain something we've seen already) that IMR doesn't allow.

Offline P.J. Post

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #20 on: February 11, 2018, 05:38:30 PM »
I throw them right into the deep end, but...

Since I detest exposition and description in block/bulk, I try to inform the reader as much as possible, as quickly as possible, as to what's important in the moment. I use lots of double-duty words and infer as much as possible. I don't say a character is old, I mention her smile or worry wrinkles, which denotes age, character and situational emotion. With exposition, readers have to memorize stuff, but by weaving information into the narrative, they get to experience it, learn it - which is much easier to remember.

Structurally, I usually start with a tight focus on who the MC is and then slowly broaden the circle to their surroundings, from the immediate, including emotions, to the larger world and its implications. The main thing I try to accomplish is to draw the reader in emotionally and engage their empathy, if successful, I can hold off on the action for a long time, building character and suspense and tension.

I'm generally not a fan of opening with action (because if I don't know the participants, the stakes, then I just don't really care what's going on) or in medias res, at least not in a stand alone or first book of a series; all of the rest of the books in a series are fair game for whatever, since the reader already knows the characters and setting and writing style. They've already bought in, so to speak.

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #21 on: February 11, 2018, 05:49:30 PM »
This is an excellent example, thank you for sharing it, now I really want to read that book!  8)
It's a really good read :) Unlike my post which got the stupid symbols in it even thought the preview displayed it just fine. Ugh!

Offline Athena Grayson

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #22 on: February 11, 2018, 05:54:58 PM »
I throw them right into the deep end, but...

Since I detest exposition and description in block/bulk, I try to inform the reader as much as possible, as quickly as possible, as to what's important in the moment. I use lots of double-duty words and infer as much as possible. I don't say a character is old, I mention her smile or worry wrinkles, which denotes age, character and situational emotion. With exposition, readers have to memorize stuff, but by weaving information into the narrative, they get to experience it, learn it - which is much easier to remember.

Structurally, I usually start with a tight focus on who the MC is and then slowly broaden the circle to their surroundings, from the immediate, including emotions, to the larger world and its implications. The main thing I try to accomplish is to draw the reader in emotionally and engage their empathy, if successful, I can hold off on the action for a long time, building character and suspense and tension.

I'm generally not a fan of opening with action (because if I don't know the participants, the stakes, then I just don't really care what's going on) or in medias res, at least not in a stand alone or first book of a series; all of the rest of the books in a series are fair game for whatever, since the reader already knows the characters and setting and writing style. They've already bought in, so to speak.

^^This. I tend to care a little less if there's opening action because I haven't yet cared about anybody. I like starting out in deep POVs. I do get the occasional review that says the reader wasn't sure what was going on at first, but they almost always say, "but I was swept up and figured it out." I tend to trust readers to figure out the world as we go, because the characters already know, so they wouldn't be thinking their "As you know, Bobs" any more than they'd be saying them.

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Online C. Gold

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #23 on: February 11, 2018, 06:06:35 PM »
You don't need action, you just need interesting enough scenes to keep the person reading. In fact, I'd warn against action if your post-sample story turns all slow because it might tick off the reader who was expecting action from the sample and gets boring (to them) stuff once they paid.

Offline mama_bear

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Re: Throwing your readers into the deep end!
« Reply #24 on: February 11, 2018, 06:34:12 PM »
The story needs to open with conflict. Not all conflict is action. Action can be shallow conflict if you know the protagonist is going to survive (low stakes).

If you can write an infodump, you can find a clever way to weave that information into the story. Infodumps aren't fun to read. Readers like to "play" when they're reading and piece the puzzle together themselves, it gives them satisfaction and makes a book more memorable (or so says Donald Maass).