People often ask me why I have a blog. If they’ve read some of my posts then they ask me why I’m doing it. My blog is a reflection of the research I am doing for my thesis on the consistent consequential elements that authors include in the first ten pages of fictional novels. Why ten pages? Why not? It’s a nice number. And it’s totally random.
What I’ve noticed in my ten page readings – which, by the way, I’m calling “discovery” instead of “research” – is that the majority of the books I start introduce a location within the first few paragraphs, and usually within the first three sentences. It is my opinion that by doing so the author gives the reader a tangible way to relate to the narrative voice and main character, which are often one and the same. For example, in my most recent posting of THE GOOD EARTH, the reader learns in the second sentence that the main character is “opening his eyes in the blackness of the curtains about his bed. It doesn’t tell the reader EVERYTHING about where the story is located, and yet it gives the reader a starting point. It places the character in a particular location and in turn allows the reader to create an opinion about that character. Even if that location is an unfamiliar or fantastical place, the reader establishes their relationship to the character by the world in which the character exists.
Readers of fictional literature are all (predominantly) human beings with strong ties to particular places and locations. As humans we view the world and our place in it, not the other way around. Even the most self-centered or megalomaniacal personalities who view themselves as the center of the universe have to have a universe in which to be the center of. The author first introduces location (I’ll say 85% of the time) within the first three paragraphs. It is the main character’s relationship to the place he inhabits, even if that place is completely foreign to the character, that tells the reader how to relate to the character’s story.
People relate to each other differently depending on where they encounter each other. In the case of THE GOOD EARTH, the reader slowly awakens to the new day along with Wang Lung. Throughout the following few paragraphs the narrator describes the mud & straw hut, the cow and chickens sharing the kitchen and the vast sky dawning over their precious wheat fields. Our relationship to Wang Lung is enhanced by Wang Lung’s relationship to his bed, his home, and his fields.