There is a subset of fantasy novels where the unsuspecting protagonist crosses over from this world into another. My novel in progress happens to be one such book, so I raided my shelves for examples.
Here’s what I wanted to find out:
- How does the author hint that there’s another world, and that the novel will have elements of fantasy or science fiction?
- How many pages does it take before the protagonist finally crosses over into the other world?
The results surprised me. The existence of other world was generally explicitly stated, and the protagonist always crosses over within the first few chapters of the book.
The results of my analysis in further detail…
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
- The first hint of speculative elements to the story was on page 3 of the prologue. A woman tells Richard his future, that he’s going on a long journey to “Not any London I know.” Chapter 1 opens with characters escaping from the other world into this one. Chapter 2 opens with a dream about the other world and a strange creature.
- Richard crosses over into the other world somewhere around the 40 page mark. The transition is subtle because the two worlds are intertwined. This is about 11% of the way into the novel.
The Onion Girl by Charles De Lint
- The first hint of fantasy is the opening line: “Once upon a time…”. Jilly talks about dreams, and wishes, and fairies. She says explicitly that she carries another world inside her, explains that there are things that exist on the fringes of our consciousness, like gargoyles that pretend to be stone, but wink as she passes. She dreams of the same place repeatedly.
- She crosses over on page 7, into the familiar space of her dreams. This is 1% of the way into the book.
Otherland book 1 – City of Golden Shadows by Tad Williams
- The foreword is set in the other world. The character speaking uses the words “in a normal world” establishing that this is not a normal place. By the end of the foreword, the character thinks he has died, but he is still conscious, and awakens in a strange place. As chapter 1 begins, there are hints that impossible realities may exist, and that there are holes in virtual reality where people vanish.
- Page 74, or chapter 4, starts entirely in the other world. Ignoring the foreword, this is 6% into the novel.
The Fionavar Tapestry book 1 – The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay
- The prologue uses epic language, and recounts the history of a world other than ours. In chapter 1, a dwarf appears, and one of the characters has a dream about an antlered man and a dog. On page 23, the main characters are told of the existence of another world, but they don’t believe it.
- Page 31 they cross over for what they think is a temporary visit. This is about 7% into the novel.
I wish I had a bigger sampling to examine (I do love my statistics), but I suspect the results would be very similar. I get the idea. The beginning of the novel sets the tone and premise as quickly as possible.