A problem I commonly see in science fiction/fantasy works, (even among those published by the Big 5 and on the New York Times Best Sellers list), is that the author drops the reader into a “whole new world” without a proverbial parachute and crash lands them into a head swirling amount dialogue and terminology without first acclimating them to the landscape, making the first several paragraphs, at least, and sometimes the first few chapters nearly impossible to understand. Certainly there is always the argument for jumping into the pool head first to get used to the cold water all at once, however, letting the reader dip their toe in the pool before stepping in and getting used to the water gradually, in a literary sense, is a kindness.
In the Harry Potter novels J.K. Rowling does this well by beginning Harry’s story in the normal, if not somewhat dysfunctional, household of the Dursleys—giving us character introduction, description and understandable dialogue while using their home as a base to introduce the magical world of Hogwarts in which the reader is about to embark. Could you imagine instead if she’d have dropped us into a conversation between Harry and Dobby without us having an introduction to the magical world they lived in and what Dobby looked like. We’d have figured Dobby to be human until we learned otherwise and then felt confused upon realizing he was an elf—as though the reader was trying to “catch up” to what the author was trying to convey.
Even J.R.R. Tolkien began The Hobbit by stating, “This is a story of long ago. At that time the languages and letters were quite different from ours today…” and then goes on to explain. In the first paragraphs of the first chapter, Tolkien begins with rich detail of the world we are about to visit:
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel” a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats—the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of the hill—The Hill, as all people for many miles round called it—and many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on another. No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and indeed on the same passage.
This hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was Baggins. The Bagginses had lived in the neighborhood of The Hill for time out of mind…”
The proper beginning for the proper introduction for hobbits, their world and surroundings. No odd dialogue between mysterious characters for the reader to try to figure out who is talking, what the meaning is of the odd terminology and what they look like. The author takes the reader by the hand and essentially says, “Let me show you this world.” No wonder The Hobbit has been a favorite by readers around the globe for nearly a century now!
Of course when writing a short story there may not be room for such rich description and detail but giving the reader a little to go on will certainly help gain their interest and most importantly keep them reading!