A few years ago, I read a mystery that had a very modern and contemporary feel to it, both in the language and the narrative. Nowhere in the book’s description or within the context of the story did it clarify the time period. I’d read perhaps six chapters before it became clear that it was set in the Old West, and not in the year 2012. Not long after that, I lost interest, put the book down and have since forgotten both title and author.
Why did I put the book down, after investing enough time to have read six chapters? I wanted to give the book a fair chance, even though I was continually trying to pinpoint the When of the world within that story. And when a simple thing (like establishing the time period) takes more than one paragraph, let alone fifty pages, I’m removed from that world completely. The effort to try and go back in is no longer worth it.
When writing fiction, be it a long or short narrative, it is important to immediately establish the context of the when, the where and the why. This is especially important when the setting of your story is historical. Whether it’s the Old West, Ancient Athens or turn of the century London, as soon as your reader opens to the first page, that world must come to life and engage all five senses – smell, sound, sight, touch, taste. The goal, by doing this, is to engage the reader so deeply that they can’t turn the pages fast enough.
Your job as a writer is to create a world so rich, so detailed, so inviting, that it takes your reader out of this world.
And leave them wanting more.