The Slog of the First Five Chapters

The Slog of the First Five Chapters

September 26, 2020

The overwhelming feeling while starting a new Scifi or Fantasy series after finishing an old one

After finishing a book or a series, I face a lot of inertia while picking up a new book. I am constantly dreaming about the old world, talking about it with my friends, and feel comfortable with the characters. I am excited to pick up the new book, I want to fall in love with new characters, I want to immerse myself into the new world. But I am nervous with doubt and fear of not loving the new world.

Sometimes, authors can make this experience the most pleasurable. They would slowly slide you deeper into the world until you won’t turn back and shut the book. But sometimes, they would just drop you in the middle of a calamity and ask you to learn everything.

Whichever approach you prefer, the first five chapters of a new book are always a little difficult.

Authors do have different approached towards the first five chapters. Some authors throw out the kitchen sink of names, jargon, and everything in between in the first chapter itself. Some start with a kid on the farm (or living under the stairs) oblivious to the world just like us.

The Slow Start

I have measured my first five chapters reading speed compared to the average reading speed of a whole book. I average about 250 words per minute while reading fiction. But in the first five chapters, reading speed goes down to 150 words per minute. Due to the constant rereading of some concepts, the weird jargon, and sometimes, too complicated names of characters and places.

However, the problems are only the first five or so chapters where you are trying to understand the world, the technology, magic, economics, and politics. Most of the time the first five chapters may be super confusing and you may need to reread them or read them extremely slowly.

But after these first five chapters, you are saddled in, seat belt tightened and ready to sail through the book. Not because there won’t be any new characters or places that would be introduced. But you get a hang of the style of the book. The names get easier even if they are exotic to you, they are not exotic in the world anymore. After the 50% mark in a book, you probably start using some of the slang while discussing the book with your friends.

The Easy Entry

Some books do a very good job with the first five chapters; Harry Potter being the best example.

The boy that lived under the stairs had no idea that a parallel world of magic existed where he was the most famous personality. We get small nuggets of his magical power in the first three chapters. And then the thunderous Hagrid comes in and turns Harry’s life (as well as the reader’s) upside down. We slowly learn about this mystical world through Harry’s eyes and the experience is both surreal and easy on us, the readers.

Of course, the first book is directed towards a much younger audience and this way of worldbuilding may not be ideal for adults. But with more reading, you find out there are so many ways to do it.

Guided Learning

Brandon Sanderson’s mammoth, both in size and stature, The Way of Kings falls in the intermediate level for the first five chapters. But it is my favorite way to introduce a world and a story.

The Way of Kings begins with a prologue of a past event from the world. Sanderson narrates a complete fight scene in the prologue with a lot of nuggets on how the magic system works and what superpowers are going to come in handy in the near future. He also gives us details of the weaponry and a little bit about the races of the world. Yes, it is a heavy prologue in terms of information, but the information is so well spread out that you don’t feel overwhelmed with any of it.

Best part, Sanderson does not believe in super complicated names. His places and people and simple names with vowels and consonants in the right place. I really don’t like it when authors try to cram in too many exotic-sounding names that cannot be pronounced and are counterproductive to the reading flow.

Sanderson hides a lot of the information of the world in mystery. Lost texts, lost stories, and hidden meaning in ancient lore. That way the characters are doing a lot of the discovery with us.

Throwing in the Deep End of the Pool

The least favorite of all as you might have guessed is the needless use of complicated names and delving starting at a point where the story is just a hard read for those first five chapters. One of my least favorite beginnings to any books must be from Dune by Frank Herbert. This all-time bestselling science fiction novel’s first 200 words contain 10 different names of places and characters. Some easy to pronounce, others just too difficult. The first 200 words! Not even the first five chapters.

I had to read the first few pages again and again trying to understand the premise and the situation. Things did get better, however, it took too long for me to actually start to understand the world and the premise of the story. The characters just didn’t stand out in the first 5% of the book. They were mechanical carriers of names and information of the world.

Not to say Dune is a bad book. I am now enjoying it more and more as I have overcome the learning curve. The worldbuilding mostly is happening through dialogue and a big bonus (for me, at least) is the omniscient narration. The third person jumps from one point of view to another mid-scene. It can get a little annoying when you skip a few words and later realize that the thoughts belonged to someone else. Nevertheless, it is a vast world with a lot of political intrigue and exotic technology helping humans survive the extreme conditions of the Dune universe.

The first five chapters should ideally set the tone. It should just give enough information as needed for the current stage of the story and reveal more as and when required. As readers, we look for the conflict from the very beginning. Some authors do oblige but some ask us to make the arduous journey to enlightenment.

You may have your personal preferences on how you want the first five chapters to go. But we all know that once we get past that, fast or slow, a new world welcomes us into its arms. Our imagination runs wild and we start using the jargon, imagine the magic in us, and build our own little stories in those worlds.

You can find on @gauravshetty4 almost anywhere.


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