Have you compared the beginning of a current published book with one that’s forty or fifty years old?
One of the things that might jump out at you is that stories nowadays start off, like movies do, with someone in the middle of something. In writer-craft speak, that’s using the technique called “in media res,” Latin for “in the middle of things.”
Authors from previous eras often wander into the tale, like a fireside storyteller starting out the yarn with a bit of background. “In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit.” “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Readers were happy with these beginnings. But the immediacy of film, and its prevalence in our culture, has changed consumer expectations for novels.
Movies, you may have noticed, usually start off with a bang these days. Something is exploding, shattering. Or hurtful words are spoken.
Novels, too, are most compelling if the first scene explodes off the page. Your protagonist is in a situation that gets the reader’s attention in a big way. There’s no storyteller doing “telling.” Instead, it’s the scene unfolding, with the author “showing.” An intake of breath. A dropped knife. A spoken word.
What if it’s not an intense kind of book? A sweet read? You still must draw the reader in by showing a scene with unnamed details that intrigue. Resist the urge to explain!