Every writer has his or her own process. Ideas come, sometimes in the form of virtual Mack trucks that appear out of nowhere, usually at the most inopportune of times, creating the need for you to stop whatever it is that you’re doing and run away to write all that good stuff down before it disappears back to wherever it was that it came from. Kind of thing that gets us scribblers labeled as odd, at the very least. The inspiration for new stories is the easy part of writing—I have PILES of fabulous story outlines that are unlikely to ever see the light of day. Getting them going is what’s needed for them ever to become real books. Just those few first paragraphs are often all that we need to give us the push to write on through to the end.
Those first paragraphs are probably the most important part of any book, and the reason why these days I prefer to go back and write them after I’ve finished the first chapter. If you don’t manage to get your readers’ attention right at the start you’re likely going to lose quite a few eyeballs shortly afterwards. My first books don’t have particularly grabby first paragraphs, and even so those first paragraphs sometimes took days and weeks of angst and endless tweaking to be born. Now I find that the best way to get your hook in is to get to know your protagonist a little first, and drop a bombshell right there at the get-go. Take from something epic that’s going to happen further along. Take a little bit of that epic and use it to surprise, pique interest, or shock your reader into really wanting to know more. You don’t have to give the game away—just a little smidgeon of things to come.
Stories don’t have to be written horizontally. There are no rules that say that the writer must start at the beginning and soldier through each page as it happens. One thing I see all the time, both with my own first scribblings and with books that I proof or edit, is that stilted beginning—trying so hard to introduce everyone and everything, from the shades of eyeballs to the colour of the walls in a room. We try to keep our hero’s secrets and to build up slowly, not wanting to drop massive spoilers in our own work, and thereby render reading to the end rather pointless.
I think that once we’ve written the most riveting scene in any book, taking a little from that and whacking it down in the very first paragraph is the best kind of teaser. You might give a tiny bit away, but you don’t have to name names. How about a fantastically short but mind-blowing first chapter? Out the fact that your murderer is a woman to your readers before the cops get to find out. Fly your dragon over the valley that holds the most terrifying secret in the universe in the third sentence. Come face to face with the woman whose husband you accidentally shot. You get the picture— Don’t worry too much about always setting the scene first, although that’s sometimes good too, close your eyes, pinch your nostrils closed and dive in, boots and all.