Jenn Reese Writer, Artist, Geek

Zooming with Examples


After a discussion (mostly on Livejournal) of yesterday’s Zoom In vs. Zoom Out post, I’ve decided to post some novel openings as examples. Most of my adult science fiction and fantasy books are in boxes, so there will be a lot of middle grade and YA books on this list. Please feel free to post other examples in the comments. Also, feel free to post examples from other media.

Zoom In

“In a city called Stonetown, near a port called Stonetown Harbor, a boy named Reynie Muldoon was preparing to take an important test.” (The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart)

“The sun sets in the west (just about everyone knows that), but Sunset Towers faced east. Strange! Sunset Towers faced east and had no towers. This glittery, glassy apartment house stood alone on the Lake Michigan shore five stories high. Five empty stories high.” (The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin)

“In the city of Ember, the sky was always dark. The only light came from great flood lamps mounted on the buildings and at the tops of poles in the middle of the larger squares.” (The City of Ember, Jeanne DuPrau) [Note: there is also a prologue called “Instructions” about the builders.]

“You grow up with a kid but you never really notice him. He’s just there–on the street, the playground, the neighborhood. He’s part of the scenery, like the parked cars and the green plastic cans on trash day.” (Loser, Jerry Spinelli)

“It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.” (The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss)

Zoom Out

“I awoke to darkness. I was hungry — starving!–and I was in pain. There was nothing in my world but hunger and pain, no other people, no other time, no other feelings.” (Fledgling, Octavia Butler)

“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor.” (The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman)

“When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas of the mattress.” (The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins)

“I didn’t know how long I had been in the king’s prison. The days were all the same, except that as each one passed, I was dirtier than before.” (The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner)

“So Mom got the postcard today. It says Congratulations in big curly letters, and at the very top is the address of Studio TV-15 on West 58th Street.” (When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead)


As SarahP pointed out, there’s a connection between PoV and opening technique. First person lends itself to Zoom Out and 3rd person omniscient lends itself to Zoom In. After a short look, I found two examples of first person that also give you a big picture first:

“The woman next to me said, It’s the Kamikaze. Someone else said, No, it’s the Painter–the Painter or the Fat Boy. The river of people leaving the gates had log-jammed against a line of cops, and rumor rippled back through the crowd. A demon had possessed a man, and O’Hare security had sealed off the concourse between the gates and the baggage claim.” (Pandemonium, Daryl Gregory)

“Crackpot Hall: The Fyrdraaca Family at Home; A speech by Flora Nemain Fyrdraaca or Fyrdraaca on the Occasion of her Fourteenth Birthday. Crackpot Hall has eleven thousand rooms, but only one potty. The Warlord freed all the slaves, but he forgot to free me. Like Crackpot Hall, the Fyrdraaca family used to be glorious, but has now fallen on hard times.” (Flora Segunda, Ysabeau S. Wilce)

So… I don’t know. Perhaps the distinction isn’t that useful, and that the “camera lens” is a bit more fluid than I thought. What do you think? Any examples you’d like to share?

About the author

Jenn Reese

1 Comment

  • Slightly off topic as it's not particularly about openings.

    One that has stuck in my mind as fascinating for the "camera work" is Norse Code by Greg van Eekhout. The book is largely told in a fairly tight third person, but is interspersed with sections in a first person narration that gives a "birds eye view" of the action. It's interesting that in this case, the first person narration has a MUCH wider view of everything than the 3rd person narration.

By Jenn Reese
Jenn Reese Writer, Artist, Geek

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