In the past, I already wrote a post about how to begin a book. However, today I would like to add some more considerations. In particular, about why writers should be as clear as possible and take pains to make sure their readers can orient themselves from the very start of a book.
How to Begin a Book — Lack of clarity
I believe this general principle makes a lot of sense for the following reasons:
First of all, if you force your readers to go through something like fifty pages before they can at least in part figure out what is going on, you’re turning the pleasure of reading into an ordeal of self-inflicted pain. And while masochism is a thing, it’s not about books.
Another important reason why leaving your readers in the dark for too long can be problematic is practical. In fact, if your readers don’t know anything about anything yet, they’re bound to miss details that could be important for the story later on. And while red herrings and sapient misdirections are part and parcel of good writing, sheer inscrutability is not.
The last reason I despise obscure and needlessly disorienting beginnings has to do with honesty. I mean, a writer who writes a book whose readers have to keep on reading and yet never manage to understand what is really going on makes me think of a snake oil salesman. In fact, hers isn’t really a book, hers is just the mirage of a book, of the actual product.
Such writer can fool me once, but then for me her career as a writer is toast.
Don’t be pedantic
To be honest, I must also note that books can suffer from the opposite problem. Namely, from being too explicative and transparent.
In fact, I can’t stand also those books in which the author spells out exactly what is going on and why a scene should be regarded as important.
I can’t stand them because such explanations kick me out of the story instantly. I mean, one moment I’m immersed in the fictional universe, and the next I’ve the impression of listening to someone lecturing me.
For example: The terrorist parked the car in front of the school. He left the bag with the bomb in the car. The bomb had been set to go off two hours later — right when teachers and students alike would be coming in. It would be a massacre.
This is a lousy example. But it’s just to give you an idea. Sentences like the last one — It would be a massacre — really irk me.
So, be as clear as possible about what is going on, but never try to tell your readers what they should think and feel. If your descriptions and dialogs have been written as they should, your readers will infer all there is to infer.