In storytelling, beginnings are everything. It's not enough to have dazzling characters and a rock-solid plot. If your story starts with a fizzle nobody will ever read far enough to discover the rest.
We've all read some of the most famous opening lines ever written:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times....(etc)" Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth." - J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
"All children, except one, grow up." Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie
"To be born again," sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, "first you have to die." - Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses
"They shoot the white girl first." - Toni Morrison, Paradise
My personal favorite opening line is: "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." Stephen King, The Gunslinger
But even an awesome opening line isn't enough. The entire first chapter needs to hook your readers and reel them into the story. Conventional wisdom says that the first chapter of a novel needs to begin in the action. In flagrante, as it were. No more is it acceptable to spend a chapter or two or three with setup, back story, or character rumination. There was a day when readers had to plod through all that chafe to get to the kernel of the story, but not anymore! Now we start with some action then weave the back story and character development into the story as we move forward. Personally, I find this approach much more appealing as a reader, but it can be a challenge as a writer. (We all want to start with the back story...admit it.)
The reason I find myself ruminating about beginnings is that I'm stuck on mine. My novel, Faerie Fate, has had several beginnings, but none of them has stuck. First, there was a prologue. But prologues are so yesterday, so I trashed it. Then I experimented with juggling chapters one through three to see which one "felt" best as chapter one. The one I settled on is just too much back story and plods along too slowly.
So I find myself back at square one. I've had several betas read the entire novel and, aside from the stodgy chapter one, the main complaint was that the first few chapters had too much of a YA feel to it. The remedy for these problems, at least in my mind, is to write an entirely new chapter one giving the MCs a more mature voice. I think I've come up with a good start, but it adds an entirely new dimension of mythology to the story, which means I'm going to have to do some rewriting of the rest of the book in order to weave those new elements into the rest of the story.
My timeline? It will be done by November 1st, because: 1) I've got plans to work on a different project for NaNoWriMo, and; 2) I'm determined to start the query process by then. If I'm diligent I can do it.
So what has your experience with beginnings been like? Do you breeze through them or struggle? Does it depend on the project? What's your all time favorite opening line?