So, Christmas managed to cut some key titles off my Amazon wishlist. The one I was most looking forward to, though, was Brooke Johnson‘s The Clockwork Giant. I’ll admit to being just a teeny tiny bit of a steampunk fan, enough of one to argue what ‘makes’ it steampunk.

So I loaded up Clockwork Giant and was greeted with this:

Petra Wade was a ticker engineer — or, she wanted to be.

I stopped reading and had to share this opening line with my friend and editor. Simply, I felt this line was brilliant. Without reading any further, I had a pretty clear picture of who this character was, even if I didn’t go any further.

She’s a driven character, proven from her self-identification as a ‘ticker engineer’ in a setting where clockwork is the technology of the day. For some reason, she feels that while she believes she deserves the title, she’s not there yet. The open loop this internal conflict creates automatically creates an interesting character. It also defines her goal, which is critical to helping identify with the character.

The other piece of this line that interests me is the term ‘ticker.’ It’s a term I’ve not seen in steampunk before, but it’s meaning is obvious. It tells me she may have done a lot more work on her setting than most steampunk writers, and that is a great sign.

Once I got over how brilliant that line is, I finished the first paragraph. It goes on to explain that only men are ticker engineers, but it’s presented all at once, in an infodump style. Normally, this would concern me, but I didn’t care enough to stop reading. A few paragraphs later, we find our heroine trying to enroll herself as a boy in the University.

While it’s been done before, I know this isn’t the ‘real plot’ from being an opening, but it creates conflict. She’s doing something forbidden, and we want to know how it turns out. But around this, Brooke describes the University in fairly minute detail. I don’t feel it was necessary, and the big blocks of description would have turned me off in a lot of books.

The key is, I was already hooked. The story may have flagged a little here, but I wanted to know more. And let me tell you, at a quarter of the way through the book, I’m glad I was hooked early.

Your turn, share your favorite opening line, then dissect why it works in the comments!

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