Many authors feel that it might be simpler to write a novel without an opening paragraph. Perhaps if they could just start at the bottom of page two and hope no one noticed. Some authors have tried this method and continue writing their story until an attention-getting paragraph pops into their head.
The importance of the opening paragraphs cannot be overstated. The first one or two paragraphs set the tone for the entire book. The story starts in the first paragraphs – not two or three pages down the road. They introduce the main character, point of view, setting, mood, and sometimes the story conflict and generally follow the “W Rule”:
The primary and often only goal of your opening paragraph is to grab the reader’s attention and make him or her want to keep reading. Fiction often starts in the middle of some action that will immediately grab the reader and make him or her wonder what is going on.
Methods that can ‘hook’ your readers include beginning with a shocking, bold statement or fact, beginning with a rhetorical question, showing the main character with a problem, or setting up a situation that leaves the reader with a question.
Many writers start their hooks way before their story actually begins. However, the most effective openers begin at the highest, most dramatic moment and the story develops from there.
Some authors will spend considerable time on their openings only to find that when they get to the end of the book, the book has changed in such a way that the opening no longer works. Writers should not be afraid to use an opening as a jump-start to their story but they should be equally unafraid to toss away those first few openings in search of the perfect opening. Many writers go through an evolutionary process with their openings, often finding their true opening buried within the existing story.
The cliché “you only have one change to make a first impression” best sums up the importance and impact of the opening paragraphs. It should be both the first thing and the last thing an author considers before submitting a manuscript to an editor.