Today, however, I wanted to outline some great points and advice from one of the panels: Nail That Opening - Lesson From Hollywood on Capturing Your Audience, which was run by Mallory Braus, Editor at Carina Press, and Elizabeth London, Editor at Ellora's Cave.
They talked about:
5 Things To Look For In An Opening
1. Engaging from the beginning with a strong, compelling character. Compelling and likable character may not be the same thing. For example, a book (or a movie) can open with a villain. But the character has to be interesting and compelling throughout the story. What can make a character more compelling? Idiosyncrasies are a great way to add to well-rounded personalities. Characters acting heroic and/or making sacrifices are usually compelling and inspire viewers/readers to keep following their story.
2. Setting the (correct) expectations. The opening has to set the tone and the genre of the work. It is the author's promise to the reader. The author then can play with how that expectation will be delivered, but it does have to be delivered by the end of the work.
3. Setting the atmosphere. Think of an opening in a movie. The atmosphere is often set by the music scores and the lighting effects. Creepy or suspenseful music will pull the viewer into the right feel and alert him to the type of the movie. An author does not have the luxury of including music or lighting effects in a book - so an author has to be a screenwriter, a music composer and a lighting director at the same time, all with words. The feel, the texture of the scene is all about relaying sensory details. Atmosphere is not just the setting, but how the characters experience and engage with their environment.
4. Introducing the dramatic question. It doesn't have to be a complicated question. It could be as simple as "Will they or won't they get together?" It can be an "what if" question. Once this question is answered, the book (or movie) is over.
5. Presenting the inciting incident. The hook where "normal" changes. It is especially effective to start from the character's "normal" and then have the inciting incident take them out of their comfort zone. The contrast between that norm and the change is what makes the story compelling. But the change has to happen quickly - first few scenes of a movie or the first chapter of a book. The change can be very drastic (the end of the world is coming) or something that will be a change only for the character (they have never been out of their tiny town, but now they have to go to Japan for a new job).