Saturday, January 14, 2006


I started Talyn last night, and so far I'm enjoying the book. It hasn't totally drawn me in quite yet, but I think that's mostly because I'm as yet unfamiliar with the world of the story, so I'm still trying to figure out how everything ticks. I'm not that far into it, so it's understandable. It does, however, highlight one of the biggest problems faced by those who want to tell a science fiction or fantasy story. With mainstream fiction, the only real question the reader asks when picking up the book is, "Why should I care?" The reader wants to know why this character and this set of conflicts is important. The wise author will answer those particular questions right away. On the other hand, the first question a science fiction or fantasy reader will ask is, "Where am I?" Particularly in fantasy, while there are rules (or, at least, there had better be...), the reader knows that he can't take any rules for granted until they are laid out in the story.

So, while you've probably heard that your opening has to grab the reader's attention, in genre fiction it has to do much, much more. The challenge of writing a good opening for a genre novel is the challenge of getting your reader oriented and at least headed off in the right direction without driving him to close the book in frustration or boredom. It's no easy task.

So far, Holly Lisle has done an okay job with it. I think that her use of an invented language -- particularly when she includes a pronunciation guide in the beginning of the book -- is a big mistake. I've posted earlier about made-up languages, so I won't repeat that here. In this case, however, I think the pronunciation guide works against her. Instead of just pronouncing the words the way they seem to be spelled and moving on with the story, I find myself constantly breaking out of the narrative to figure out how a particular word is "supposed" to be pronounced. Unless there is a key plot reason why a mispronunciation might drive events, why risk dragging your reader out of the story? Inventing languages is fun and cool, but we're writers not linguists. If it doesn't drive the tale, it shouldn't be there. That said, Holly's writing itself is excellent as always, so there's no danger of my dropping the book. I like the protagonist already, and I'm curious to learn more about her. That's always a good sign!

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