A compelling opening for a novel can be an intriguing description of place. Here’s the start of a 2004 fantasy for young readers, The Sea of Trolls, by Nancy Farmer, 3-time winner of a Newbery Honor award.
Jack woke before dawn and listened to the cold February wind lash the walls of the house. He sighed. It was going to be another rotten day. He stared up at the rafters, savoring the last minutes of warmth. He was bundled in a cocoon of wool blankets over a bed of dried heather. The floor was deep, below the level of the house. The wind that found its way under the door passed over his head.
It was a good house, with oak pillars planted the root up to keep damp from rising from the ground. Jack had watched Father build it when he was seven. Father had thought a child couldn’t understand such a complicated task, but Jack had. He’d paid close attention and thought he could build a house even now, four years later. Jack forgot very little of what he saw.
At the far end of the long room Jack could see Mother stir up the cooking fire. The light danced on the loft.
A simple start. But notice how much is communicated; the time frame (early Middle Ages) is sketched. Notice what is asked as an implicit question. Why will it be another rotten day? Notice the character hints. Jack is a boy who observes things. He wakes up, seeing things around him.
With a calm, confident air, the first paragraphs of the book signal: this is the beginning of a tale. A story is about to unfold.
When I turn over the book, the jacket praises Farmer’s previous novels, “perilous adventures through hostile but richly conceived landscapes” (New York Times Book Review); “a talent for creating exciting tales in beautifully realized, unusual worlds” (Kirkus); and “Readers will be hooked from the first page” (Publishers Weekly).
Perilous adventures. Exciting tales. Unusual worlds.
And readers hooked from the first page.
Hooked not with wild action, but with a quiet, appealing, intriguing description of a boy waking up in a house in the Middle Ages – a come-hither promise of Once Upon a Time.