Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Fantasy openings to avoid

Ah, interesting! A post at Pub Rants about openings to avoid if you are writing a fantasy novel. I am instantly curious to see what Kristen Nelson has to say about this.

Your fantasy opening pages might be in trouble if…

#1) Your novel opens with an easily recognizable fantasy genre trope.

Hmm. What do you suppose Kristen and Angie have in mind here? I am trying to imagine what kind of “fantasy genre trope” would not work as an opening. Any kind of incident involving a dragon works everywhere, doesn’t it? In any part of the story. So they can’t mean to refer to things like that. Let’s see… okay, here’s the list:

Gathering herbs
Walking into an inn or tavern, noting all the patrons, ordering a tankard of ale
Leaving an inn or tavern, immediately saddling or mounting a horse
Escaping/sneaking through a castle
Tracking/hunting, or otherwise carefully aiming a crossbow at something/someone
Training for combat, often with swords
Being summoned to appear before the council or the queen/king
Confiding in a servant, your one and only friend
Defying your parent, who just so happens to be the queen/king
Fighting in a massive battle scene, about which the reader knows nothing
Tending a sick sibling or parent
Tending an injured stranger, who even in their fevered, half-conscious state, is undeniably alluring

Ah ha. Well, I’ve opened with the first of these. Then griffins immediately fly overhead, which is probably why no one suggested gathering herbs might be a cliched opening. I’ve almost sort-of-kind-of used the last one on this list as well, though not quite at the exact beginning and without the “alluring” element.

I should add here that this post is not arguing you should never open with any of these, just that you should think carefully about it. Of course anything can work if it’s done well enough.

The tracking/hunting thing does certainly seem very common, but I don’t know that it bothers me at all. Walk on Earth a Stranger opens this way, and it’s fine. Partly because the scene is short, partly because it’s used to introduce certain important elements of characterization and worldbuilding.

Sneaking into or out of anywhere generally works for me as an opening. I mean, if the book is otherwise well written, this is an element that will probably appeal to me wherever it appears in the book, including at the beginning. I ought to be able to think of examples, although at the moment not so much.

The post gives a detailed example of pulling off the inn scene as an opening. Sharon Shinn also does that in one of her Twelve Houses books; not sure which one, but I remember the scene.

I believe my personal least favorite is the third from the bottom: massive battle about which the reader knows nothing. I find that kind of opening deeply boring and probably will just put the book down. It’s a little hard to imagine any author pulling this off well enough for the scene to be engaging, though probably somebody has at some point.

Any of those tropes strike you as especially common and also especially unappealing to you?

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4 Comments Fantasy openings to avoid

  1. Elaine T

    I’m another who hates the opening with battle (or other physical fight, like bar fight). I need characters I can care about, and it’s hard to provide that in such an opening. RIDDLE-MASTER at least lets me get to know people before fists are swung. And it’s all full of character – I’ve been rereading early McKillip, so she’s on the tip of the fingers.

    Didn’t you open MOUNTAIN with the princess sneaking. Or having snuck and actively eavesdropping, which I think counts.

    Helen Lowe’s Heir of Night starts with girl character sneaking around the old keep, and I put it down several times before the guy who recommended it persuaded me to keep going. It read as just too boringly familiar.

    And the other thing I’ve been rereading opens with character in sad shape – it’s the enchanted prince from East of the Sun – who just got turned into a bear and isn’t sure what’s going on. His body isn’t working right. It works for me as an opening. Troll-Magic by J Ney-Grim

    I discovered Alma Boykin’s short Russiantales in Colorado by the sample which opened with Sergeant Alexander Nikolaoi Zolnerovich watching traffic and arguing with the radio when the hut on chicken legs walks across the lanes of I-25. I had to keep going because I like Russian fairy tales.

  2. Hanneke

    Elaine, both those fairytales sound interesting. I got the Troll-magic ebook on Kobo to try it, but can’t find Alma Boykin there. Is she not available in ebook form?

  3. Rachel

    Oh, right, Elaine, I forgot about that. So I guess I’ve used three of these openings, at least more-or-less.

    I really like the idea of a traffic incident involving Baba Yaga’s hut.

  4. Elaine T

    Rachel, I know, I did, too, and had to keep going.

    Alexander, Soldier’s Son Kindle Edition
    by Alma Boykin
    huh. The link won’t paste properly, but that’s the text. Hope it helps.

    It’s five short stories all based off Russian or Eastern European fairy tales. Alexi and eventually his family – once he’s married with children – all get involved. They’re fun. $4 to buy or free w/KU.

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