Grabbing Your Readers: An Outcast in Another World

If you want someone to enjoy your story (and hopefully buy your book), they have to be intrigued by the opening pages. The Kindle sample of An Outcast in Another World by Kamikaze Potato grabbed me, so I thought I’d set down exactly why. Note, I’m not analyzing the whole book here (need to wait on getting that yet), just what intrigued me about that first 12% and made the plotbunnies say, “Yes, must know more!”

(Yes, Kamikaze Potato. Heck, if you’re going to have a pen name, might as well go all the way. 🙂 )

First, the story opens with a friendly conversation between Rob and his best friend Jason, which shows that Rob isn’t what people think of as “classic hero material”; not as buff, handsome, or suave with the ladies as his friend. But he has a sense of humor and doesn’t take people being jerks lightly, willing to poke at college professors and take the consequences of said poking. So we know Rob may not be a strong-jawed Hero, but he seems to be a good regular guy, responsible for his own actions, and kind.

Hard on the heels of that, the story goes for a Save the Cat moment. In the midst of the inexplicable (panicked screaming and gaping abyss of blackness), someone or something has his friend trapped, trying to drag him into the darkness. Rob knocks him away – and gets kidnapped himself.

Note, one of the key elements in here is, while it’s a heroic move, it’s not a self-sacrificing one. Rob’s trying to save his friend, and gets caught by accident. He’s confident enough in himself as a decent person to act as if his own life is worth preserving, even if he’s willing to risk it.

No good deed going unpunished, the guy then gets horribly isekai’d. Into the middle of a wilderness that turns out to be horribly unfriendly… and runs with game mechanics.

Here’s the second main bunny-grab: it’s a LitRPG setting, but the main character had absolutely no intention of playing a game. The story starting in the real world, then dragging the character to Elatra, makes the stats and skills part of the bizarre and fantastic setting, instead of a “game element”. This is one of the better starts to a LitRPG setup I’ve read so far.

Third bunny grab? That horribly unfriendly wilderness aspect. Like any one of us suddenly dumped far from civilization and facing down monsters with nothing but a tunic and a sword, Rob struggles to stay alive. Rabid monster wolves. Sudden cliffs. Fruits and mushrooms you have no way to identify as safe, outside of eating one and seeing if you get hit with the Poison Status. Like a real world, only with game stats giving you a chance to survive your worst mistakes.

And Rob is determined to survive, figure out what happened, and see if he can find a way home. One step at a time. First, he has to survive the terrified and lethally hostile elves….

So. Yes. The writer knows how to grab your attention and keep it, throwing more and more realistic dangers at the hero while showing how he scrapes through with wit, determination, and keen attention to detail. This sample works!


23 thoughts on “Grabbing Your Readers: An Outcast in Another World

  1. In the original fic I’m supposed to be building a buffer for (shut up, Wen Qing, I’ve got the notes saved on what you’re doing, you can put Jiang Yanli through fan-fighting testing _later_), the protagonist starts out on a road, not remembering _anything_. Because about half-an-hour ago, he tried to do a pretty girl a favor and it was something _extremely_ forbidden, even in the lowest phase/layer of the empyrean realms, so his soul got blasted, ending up hollowed out like he’d gone a couple dozen losing rounds with a succubus in Nethack. (Or been feasted on by devils in a Screwtape-style hell.)

    (The pretty girl didn’t realize what would happen. She’s pretty, but not particularly intelligent. There’s a reason she doesn’t try to progress to a more rarified empyrean phase.)

    He’s not without advantages, but his physical and many of his social stats got set to -3 in his new body, and with the Ars Magica-style scaling I’m using for the litRPG elements, that means he’s weak, short-winded, slow, clumsy, lacking poise, and prone to pissing people off. He’s got a lot of conditioning to do just to get up to mediocre. And while the city they translocated next to is intended for adventurers of novice, junior, and blooded tiers (levels 0 through 29, effectively), someone in the local establishment has been trying to build up the ‘wretched hive’ underlayer of the city (see V’s post from yesterday, and comments).

    And the pretty girl the protagonist did a favor for is a _huge_ commodity, if anyone finds out why, for reasons having nothing to do with sex. Not that the wretched hive would hesitate to rent that part of her on the side, of course.

    Ideally, things will build up to the point where even the people who know they’re supposed to help him can hardly stand him, to bring things to the first major crisis point.



    1. There’s a LitRPG series called Completionist Chronicles that has penalties for low stats.

      Two of the characters have very low Charisma, which actually subtly changes their speech and body language to make them unlikeable.
      Not outright cussing people out, but being rude, curt, and arrogant instead of considerate and diplomatic.

      They actually do a decent job of having it skew their situation without being an insurmountable problem.
      They can make friends, but they have to have a reason to get past that initial “this person seems like a jackass” hurdle.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thing is, while Protagonist can see his physical stats, his social, mental, and preternatural stats are all hidden until he picks up a class that uses them, or otherwise unlocks access to that part of his ‘character sheet’ (which is a downgraded version of the divine tablet that young divinities use as a reference).

        So he doesn’t realize that he comes across as an asshole. If he spent more time in front of a mirror, he might realize that his scowling brow, sneering mouth, and otherwise ‘resting bitch face turned up to eleven’ means he gives everyone both a bad first impression as well as bad ongoing impressions, but his rented bedroom doesn’t have one, and neither does the cheap washroom he shares with everyone else on the floor.



      2. It’s not as offensive when his face is still, so while he’s seen his face in a pond, he has no idea just how badly he comes across when he’s talking to others. Doesn’t realize that the local support staff are barely putting up with him, and only because he doesn’t overtly Karen at them.



  2. On the other hand, sometimes a story with a great plot-hook can be extra disappointing if it fails at using it.

    I remember one story where the MC was framed for murder, and “condemned” to be the ruler’s food taster. (They’d gone through several in the last few years. It wasn’t a nice job.)

    My instantaneous response was that this is a perfect setup for a Court Intrigue story.

    It sets up several factions, the Ruler, the people trying to poison the the Ruler, and the people that framed the MC.

    It also gives the MC an excuse to be wandering around the palace, listening in on conversations at feasts.

    And it also gives the MC perfectly clear motivations, they want to track down the poisoners so they don’t get poisoned, and they want to clear their name, which makes them a participant in various plots, while personally being outside them.

    Then halfway through the story we find out the MC has magic.
    Magic is forbidden.
    The only way they can survive is to flee the country.
    Instantly all the plots become meaningless since everything is overridden by *Magic.*
    They still resolve them, but they no longer matter.

    It wasn’t a bad “secret mage fleeing persecution” novel, but it wasn’t a great one either.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Stories like that make me wonder if the author really INTENDED to fulfill the political intrigue promise, realized their skills weren’t up to the job, and is now rapidly scrambling to figure out what to do now, not wanting to waste what they’ve already written.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is why I’m currently going through my first edit of Oni the Lonely very carefully -the idea changed on me partway through, fortunately not as drastically as that example, but I need to chop and saw and polish so all the pieces match up again.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. While my first gut reaction to that is “but, but… the food taster is more than just ‘the guy who you watch to see if he dies first’. You have to trust him more than most anyone else, even your regular bodyguards.” After all, the taste tester himself could be the poisoner, and has more opportunity than most to do so. And even if the taste tester isn’t doing the poisoning directly, there’s quite a few ways to poison the king even with a taste tester involved, especially if the taste tester’s willing to suffer the poison too (there _are_ slower acting poisons, or poisons that require buildup over time). A good taste tester’s job involves more than just the final step of “take a bite/sip of each food/drink before passing it on to the king”, it includes being involved in the entire process from food-prep on, including watching everyone involved for changes in behavior that might be warning signs. And that’s just the basics. The position of “food taster” was normally a _favored_ position, for a trusted friend, not a _disposable_ position for use as punishment. So that one’s hitting my SoD right there from the initial premise.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. My SoD is actually at least partly dependent on “is this supposed to be significant to the plot/worldbuilding/etc, or just a random background detail”. Give me two stories with the same wrong detail, but in one it’s a significant part of the plot/worldbuilding, while in the other it’s just a random unimportant background detail, and the first one will trigger my SoD hard while the second will just be a minor annoyance. After all, if it’s significant, then stuff is built upon it, and it becomes load bearing… and if it can’t bear the load, that’s a problem. If it’s just for background fluff, well, I don’t like lots of fluff things, like the colors people paint their houses or the color combinations of some of their clothes, but the house or clothes are still doing their jobs despite the colors. And, of course, there’s one additional factor that affects it: if the author claims a standard is maintained, and the descriptions don’t match the standard the author claimed, then I’ll judge that work on the standard that was claimed even if I’d normally judge it to a lesser standard due to the content.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Read the book! Actually, pretty good, sets up the narrative tension, and the inter character tension, very well. Though if someone doesn’t try and pull out the ‘look at the results of [spoiler]’ in the sequel I will be crying foul. Still. Rob actually specifically turns off several effects exactly for the reason that the psychological effects of them scare the crap out of him, specifically because they play into the (not called this but definitely is) Racial Debuff that humans have in the world. It doesn’t keep them from leveling up in the background, but he has them turned off.

    It definitely sets up a sequel while not feeling like I would be unsatisfied leaving it where it’s at. Of course, I am a fanfic person. Endings like the one the book has are Free Real Estate.

    Still, the only thing the potential party is missing is a cleric/healer. We’ve got a tank, an assortment of DPS, and the potential for a squishy mage.

    Good writing, not exactly a lighthearted romp, but overall still a good story.

    Liked by 1 person

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