Monday, August 15, 2011

Opening Lines--The YA Dystopian/Sci-fi/Post-Apocalyptic Edition

Yep. It's time for the second installment of my Opening Lines seriesBut unlike the first installment, I'll be looking at first lines from a few genres, not just one. 

Which genres, you ask?

1) Dystopian

2) Sci-fi

3) Post-apocalyptic

Le opening lines:

"When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold"--Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

"It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened"--Lois Lowry, The Giver

"Good girls don't walk with boys"--Elana Johnson, Possession.

"The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit"--Scott Westerfeld, Uglies.

"There is one mirror in my house"--Veronica Roth, Divergent.

"'Nina, look.' Sandy jabbed me in the ribs"--Julia Karr, XVI.  

"I'm afraid my hair is showing"--Elizabeth Scott, Grace

"My mother used to tell me about the ocean"--Carrie Ryan, The Forest of Hands and Teeth. 

"CA-CHUNK, CA-CHUNK, CA-CHUNK"--Pam Bachorz, Candor

"Daddy said, 'Let Mom go first'"--Beth Revis, Across The Universe

"Now that I've found the way to fly, which direction should I go into the night?"--Ally Condie, Matched

Okay. Time for a closer look...

  • XVI and Across The Universe both open with dialogue, but they do it in a way that leaves you hanging. With the former, you ask yourself what Sandy wants Nina to look at. With the latter, you ask yourself what the main character's dad wants Mom to do, and why should she go first. Usually, this type of opening is frowned upon by agents, but exceptions like these ones do exist. Why? To me, it all comes down to creating intrigue. Your opening dialogue should make the reader ask themselves a question, and of course, want to know the answer immediately.
  •  Candor relies on a very unusual opening: sound. I, for one, am wondering what makes that sound, and what it entails for the main character. Is he/she in danger? Is he/she causing the sound, or is someone/something else responsible? Where is the main character? Bottom line: there are more than one questions asked here, and whichever one you choose to answer doesn't matter. What matters is that you will read on to figure out what the heck sounds like that!
  • The Hunger Games, The Giver, Possession, Uglies, Divergent, Grace, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth all share the same trait: they start with a "telling" sentence. Sure, there are more exciting ways to open (EXPLOSIONS! BATTLE SCENES TO THE DEATH!), but these authors chose to ease the reader in through good ol' telling. And I think it works. Why? These "telling" sentences make me freak out. They all have a WTF quality to them, whether they're producing fear or a raised eyebrow (WHY is Jonas beginning to be frightened? WHY is the fact that her hair showing such a big deal? WHY is there only one mirror in that house? WHY can't good girls walk with boys, for Christ's sake???). Notice the alarm these opening sentences cause? They force you to feel something you're not entirely sure why you should be feeling
  • And last but not least, we have Matched. This one is just plain lovely to me. It's sort of telling, but not exactly. The lyrical quality of that sentence suggests the main character is either reciting or reading poetry, which makes me go, "Hmm... I wonder why that quote jumped out at him/her". I think it serves two purposes: 1) set up the tone of the novel with (a very pretty) voice; 2) set up the main character's dilemma (uncertainty about which path to take). While I do believe other sentences flaunt the MC's voice, this one reflected that submissive, identity-crisis feel of a dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel. It rings true to the genre it belongs to, and makes me want to know how the MC will solve their problems.
So. There you have it, folks. If you're working on a YA dystopian/sci-fi/post-apocalyptic novel, I hope you consider these openings and make yours even better :)

Now tell me: are there any YA novels in these genres with openings you love? Share them in the comments!


  1. Great breakdown! It's always fascinating to see how authors choose to start their books, and there are so many different ways!

  2. I love this series you're doing! It's fascinating to see how different authors chose to begin their books, and also to weight the poetry or shock value of that first line against how successful the book was (in my mind).

    Of your list, I especially like The Hunger Games and Possession first lines. :)

  3. I like your take on the opening sentence. I do think it's good to jump right in. And although most of the sentences are telling, I think that's okay.

  4. I think my favorite is "Across The Universe," or maybe "Candor."

  5. One of my favorite YA Sci Fi opening lines is: "You see, I had this space suit." from HAVE SPACE SUIT - WILL TRAVEL by Robert Heinlein.

  6. The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab also starts with sound. I'll give you the first few lines:
    "It starts with a crack, a sputter, and a spark. The match hisses to life.
    "'Please,' comes the small voice behind me.'"
    I was hooked at that point.


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