Last year I went to a two day lecture on the Hero’s Journey put on by Karel Segers of www.thestorydepartment.com. Every stage was demonstrated with film clips (watch Toy Story for an example of the Hero’s Journey).
What I found interesting was that in romantic fiction the first stage of the Hero’s Journey, the ordinary world, is greatly compressed. Authors don’t have pages and pages to build the world, introduce the characters and then get the start of the story where the character’s life is changed forever—also known as the inciting incident. We have one paragraph, maybe two to hook the reader and get into the action.
If we’re trying to world build at the same time this can become a problem. While in film some of the world building is done visually as the character gets into action, in fiction we can’t afford to get caught in pages of description we have to be clever about what we reveal and only sprinkle in the essential pieces. In part this comes from where the story starts.
I like to show the character only moments away from the decision that will change everything. The character doesn’t realize what is about to happen—but the reader is cued to know this event is important even if they don’t know where it will lead. This is the character living in their ordinary world so they aren’t going to be looking at it and describing it in detail. But as they interact with it things will be mentioned in passing. These things need to hint at the bigger world and the bigger conflict that will come once the reader cares enough about the character to read on.
Here are the first two paragraphs of my newest release Dark Vow.
Trouble is like a bastard-horse with a hunger for blood. If it wants you, it’ll get you and take a bite out of your ass. On a good day that’s all it’ll take; on a bad day it’ll take your life. The trouble with trouble is you never know if you’re having a good day or a bad day until after it’s happened. So when a man dressed in black and wearing the gold lightning strike of the Arcane Union Bounty Hunters stood in the doorway of my gun smithy, I knew trouble had found me.
Bounty Hunters never brought good news. Never. I had to get rid of him, politely, so I didn’t end up as fodder for his bastard-horse that was quietly growling out the front. With my husband away it would be at least a day before anyone realized I was gone.
In the opening paragraph we’ve learned the heroine works in a gun smith and a Bounty Hunter has turned up. There is something called a bastard-horse…and the heroine is worried. It’s her fear that allows the reader to empathize even if they’re not privy to all the working of the world yet, and a question has been raised. What does the Bounty Hunter want?
What are some of your tips for slipping world building into the start of a story?
A civil designer by day and an author by night, Shona Husk lives in Western Australia at the edge of the Indian Ocean. Blessed with a lively imagination she spent most of her childhood making up stories. As an adult she discovered romance novels and hasn’t looked back. Drawing on history and myth, she writes about heroes who are armed and dangerous but have a heart of gold—sometimes literally.
With stories ranging from sensual to scorching, she is published with Ellora’s Cave, Samhain Publishing, Carina Press and Sourcebooks. You can find out more at http://www.shonahusk.com
Jaines Cord plans to kill the man who murdered her husband, even though killing a Bounty Hunter is said to be impossible. One bullet took away her livelihood, her home and her love. One bullet made by her. Fired from the gun she completed for the Arcane Bounty Hunter.
Obsidian wears the scars of disobeying the powerful Arcane Union. He barely escaped with his life and now lives quietly, in a town the lawmen forgot. When Jaines arrives asking too many questions, he's faced with a decision. Help her or run…again. Obsidian knows that if he flees he'll always be looking over his shoulder. His name is one of the first on the Bounty Hunter's death list.
Yet when Obsidian is offered an opportunity to stop the stone taking over his body in exchange for retrieving the gun, he asks Jaines for her help. Now Jaines must choose: a dead man's vengeance or a living man's hope?