No words in your story are as important as the opening scenes. Of course, the novel or story as a whole needs to be good, but the opening chapter or scene are make or break for whether the reader will continue. Whatever your publishing path, the person who decides whether your fiction will make money – every person who decides whether to sell or buy it – will be influenced by the first few paragraphs.
Those first paragraphs will be read by the least forgiving eye, by the least invested reader. If the first part of your work does not give the reader a reason to invest, further chapters will not even be seen.
So as an editor, I look for three basic tasks to be performed in the first scenes. They don’t have to be done in any order or sequence, but they all have their importance – and they all interact and support one another.
In novel-length fiction, I like to see these tasks accomplished by the end of the first chapter, preferably within the first few scenes. In short fiction, it’s better if they’re done in the first few paragraphs.
Here are the three jobs your opening paragraphs need to do: Establish a space-time location… introduce your main or at least a viewpoint character… and hook me.
Over the next three articles I’ll break down each of these, show how much of each is needed to keep me interested, and give examples. Stay tuned!