Beginnings are hard. And often where authors believe the beginning is, is not the true beginning. With that in mind, prepare yourself to rewrite that first chapter over and over and over, or even just cutting it completely.
But what does make a good beginning?
I’d like to look at three things that stick out for me, and these things are choices. Neither choice is right or wrong, as long as the author keeps in mind the effect those choices have on the reader.
First, should you knock quietly or barge through the door? There is a trend of recent for novels to hook and grab a reader from the very first moment. But if that’s the beginning you want, then make sure the rest of the novel follows that aggressive nature, otherwise you risk losing your reader’s attention after the first few pages. If you start slowly, the reader is already expecting to take their time to digest the rest of the plot to come.
Second, what are you telling or not telling the reader? You don’t want to overload your reader with information in the first few sentences. Even if it’s a different world, be careful what details you decide to tell right away and what you can leave for later in the plot.
Third, where is the author? This is a bit harder to understand. The best way to think about it is the point of view. Is it first person, is it third, is there a reliable narrator? Readers subconsciously look for where the author is hidden in the words so be aware what your positioning is and to maintain that distance (or closeness) throughout the book.
These questions are meant to help you as a writer understand the expectations you have set for your reader. It’s also a checklist to see if you followed through with those promises by the end of the book. But you don’t have to start here. As I said in the beginning, often the beginning is found and written at the very end.