In Airborn, Kenneth Oppel introduces the ship Aurora in one little surprise at a time.
He begins the story with the hero, Matt Cruse, in the crow’s nest. I imagine Matt in a basket at the top of the main mast of a windjammer. I imagine his hair blowing in the wind, him smelling the salt air and, as the ship nears land, watching the birds fly overhead.
But when Matt says they are traveling at seventy-five miles an hour, I think, Oppel doesn’t know his facts. A ship might, maybe, in a strong wind, go thirty-five miles an hour, but not seventy-five. Besides ships don’t do miles, they do knots.
Despite the error, I kept reading.
I soon learned the Aurora is eighty feet above the sea. She’s a flying ship. That explains the seventy-five miles per hour.
Since I already believe in fantasy, it’s not a stretch for me to believe in a flying ship. After all, Peter Pan has one.
Matt is not outside in a crow’s net, he’s in an enclosed crow’s nest. The Aurora is not a windjammer, but a 900 foot luxury liner, that flies.
Authors are storytellers. The originality and the cleverness in which they tell their story delights their fans. Some books start with a full explanation of the world the story is set in. For some novels that may work. But to make a story more interesting, the story must be told in layers.
Oppel doesn’t open the novel with a description of an ocean, flying, luxury liner. That would have been average. Instead, he describes the ship with little surprises that peaks the reader’s interest. Just when the reader thinks he/she knows where Oppel is heading, he drops in another surprise that changes the reader’s perspective. Finally, he gives the full explanation of where Matt is and what he is doing.
Matt introduces his beloved ship over several chapters. Throughout those chapters we get a full view and understanding of how the ship is built and how she works. During those same chapters, we learn of the world Matt lives in, we learn about his life on the ship and his job as cabin boy.
An author does not have to explain everything up front, or all at once. Creative, cleaver little surprises make the story more interesting. Fans love to be lead in one direction only to realize that something else is happening. They love the little surprises that pop up while they’re reading. It makes them want to keep reading to see what other surprises are in store for them.