The beginning of your story is your contract with the reader as to what they can expect if they pick up your novel. Start strong to hook your reader, continue strong to keep your reader and end strong so they buy your next book.
Promise 1: Interesting characters. When you introduce your characters, you want to make them unique, so keep it a “private” party of only a few characters to avoid information dumping. Imagine yourself at a party of a new friend where you don’t know anyone else. If 15 people get introduced, chances are you aren’t going to remember all of their names and occupations…so don’t expect your reader to remember them all either. Try to only introduce the key characters.
For a post on 7 Elements that Make a Great Character, click here.
Promise 2: Vivid description. When I pick up an historical fiction piece, I expect detailed description and accurate facts. However, like info dumping, excessive description can be tiresome and not particularly engaging enough to hook me into reading the entire book, so there needs to be a balance between a good opening description (not too wordy), but not a lazy description. I want it to take me to another time and that’s what your first chapter should do.
See how you can use setting in your story to get it moving by clicking here.
Promise 3: The heroine has a problem, but how will she fix it? Oftentimes, stories start too soon or too late. Make sure you start in a scene that is already moving, which hints to their current life that’s about to change through this new problem to emphasize the change coming. If you don’t address the heroine’s current life, the readers will not understand the heroine’s struggle in adapting to her new life with the problem. This promises to the reader that your heroine is about to go on a journey that is worth reading. Here’s a post on giving your hero small problems.
My preferred method is starting with dialogue that sends the characters into action. Check out this post for more information on the importance of the first chapter.