Monday, January 18, 2010

Speculation

Katey mentioned the other day on my Thursday blog (which was a substitute for WIP Wednesday) "I don't think it needs to be speculative right off to grab the attention-". She was speaking of the fact that my speculative story that I am working on did start off with a speculative element. In fact it seems perfectly normal to start off with. No hint of where it is going.

Is this a bad thing? should we start with a speculative element to set the mood in a piece and let the reader know that this is going to be odd/different from the norm and that real world principals don't necessarily apply? Or is it okay to bring the reader into it when the writer wants to, as long as it makes sense in the story. I have been trying to remember the beginnings of several of my favorite spec stories and how, and when, we knew that this world the writer was creating was not quite like ours. Harry Potter comes to mind.

On page one of HP we are told that everything was quite normal. then on page 3 we are told of a cat reading a map and Mr. Dudley having to ponder what he just saw. Ms. Rowling seemed to come into the speculative nature of the story fairly quickly.

In Stephen King's book, The Shining, we manage to go through several chapters before we find out anything is truly wrong with the Overlook Hotel. We catch glimpses of it, but it isn't until much later in the book that it is actually spelled out for the reader.

These seem to be the two extremes and good books in their own right. They demonstrate that there is no clear cut way of doing this and that adding a speculative element into a story is an individual choice. I guess the key is to keep the readers attention and, as long as it is foreshadowed well enough, the writer can do about anything they want.

10 comments:

Cate Gardner said...

What a fantastic question, and one I wish I had an answer too.

For my current WIP, the speculative aspect jumps in around the third paragraph. I suppose, if the story has sold to a speculative magazine then the reader will know it's speculative. And if it's a novel, the blurb will tell them.

Jamie Eyberg said...

Cate, I am just curious how long the average reader will wait for the genre to come at them with arms flailing and teeth gnashing.

Natalie L. Sin said...

I usually bring the reader in slow and easy, so to speak. I like leaving hints and glimpses of what's to come, while making my characters near and dear to the reader's heart. Then I start killing them.

Jamie Eyberg said...

LOL. I've noticed that about your stories, Nat.

Danielle Ferries said...

Maybe go with your gut instinct of what is best for the story.

Aaron Polson said...

I think it's best to let readers know what kind of world they're dealing with up front. It doesn't have to be blatant, but you run the risk of alienating them if they don't see the speculation up front. At least a trail of magical breadcrumbs. The rules are different with novels, of course. Novels can give you more time to let the world unfold. In _The Shining_, the world unfolds for the reader, just like it creeps up on the victims.

Carrie Harris said...

I think as long as the STORY comes at them (gnashing and flailing optional) right away, the speculative element can come out naturally. Because really, it's a story first and a genre second, right?

Or maybe I have no clue what I'm talking about. Who knows?

Barry Napier said...

I personally dig stories where the speculative waits to hit near the last 10% of the story. Those are awesome.

katey said...

I like to be surprised, as you might've guessed, but I've seen some editors/readers who don't much care for that approach. I think you hit it when you said there's no one way to do it... as the responses here would seem to prove.

What Aaron said about breadcrumbs is good, of course-- but that kind of thing isn't so obvious until it's over, right?

K.C. Shaw said...

If the main character and the setting is interesting, I know I'll go with the story even if I can't see where it's going to lead me. I think every story has different requirements for when to introduce the speculative elements. A story set in the here-and-now wouldn't necessarily need it until it was well underway; a story set in an alternate world of some kind will undoubtedly require clues upfront to help the reader figure things out.