I’ve decided to do one more post about this topic, but this time with a YA novel as the example. While I have many, many young adult books lying around, I chose one that I remember had an introduction that stood out to me: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern.
I will admit that I didn’t like the plot line (or some of the characters) towards the end of the book, but I always found the writing really intriguing. The idea of a circus that could appear one day and leave the next without notice sparked my curiosity.
Let’s have a look.
The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
I love that mysterious feeling you get while reading this. It only gets better.
The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.
But it is not open for business. Not just yet.
Can I just say that this was exceedingly hard to type out when I had to use American spelling? Whew.
I love the idea of a circus only in black and white, and the descriptions really give life to the world. In all honestly, I loved the little page of text before each new part begins more than anything else; it breathed life into the circus, and the circus really did feel magical.
Opens at Nightfall.
Closes at Dawn.
I can’t imagine that’s terribly good for business, but it does give it a more mysterious feel.
“What kind of circus is only open at night?” people ask. No one has a proper answer, yet as dusk approaches there is a substantial crowd of spectators gathering outside the gates.
You are amongst them, of course. Your curiosity got the better of you, as curiosity is wont to do. You stand there in the fading light, the scarf around your neck pulled up against the chilly evening breeze, waiting to see for yourself exactly what kind of circus only opens once the sun sets.
This a great way to immerse you in the world, by showing you the circus through your own eyes. I love the way Morgenstern did this.
The circus looks abandoned and empty. [..] The people around you are growing restless from waiting […] You yourself are debating departing when it happens.
First, there is a popping sound. It is barely audible over the wind and conversation. A soft noise like a kettle about to boil for tea. Then comes the light.
All over the tents, small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. […] When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears.
Stretched across the top of the gates, hidden in curls of iron, more firefly-like lights flicker to life. […] you can see that it reads:
Le Cirque des Reves
[…] Then the iron gates shudder and unlock, seemingly by their own volition. They swing outward, inviting the crowd inside.
Now the circus is open.
Now you may enter.
I skipped a lot of text (there is a lot of text) but the personal viewpoint remains all the way to the end of the introduction, and I thought it a new and original way to introduce the story. The intro is filled with mystery and intrigue, and although no characters are revealed, the setting is described in such an interesting way that you feel you must learn more about it.
Many YA novels start out with a line about how the protagonist is going to die, or there’s a time limit to do something that could potentially save the world. This one starts with a mysterious circus that pretty much every person who reads the opening page wishes to visit (that includes me, because I’m a sucker for circuses and fairs).
As a bonus, here’s an opening line from one of my favourite YA novels, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones:
In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.
What’s your favourite YA opening lines?