I have etchings. And the sound of a mountain stream out there in the moonlit darkness. Let me take you away...
Okay, still harping away on beginnings (because we all have to start somewhere... even with a cliche sometimes. I have a short that begins. " She awoke with a terrible start. Rubbing her eyes and looking at him again, she had to admit maybe he wasn't that terrible, just a bit homely, and not comfortably old, fat and rich. Not quite what she'd have chosen if she'd been sober the night before. A girl had to begin somewhere... ")
To get back to the point, an author has the difficult task of taking the reader away into the world they create. Sometimes the reader really wants to go. Will fall right in with a cheesy invitation to see etchings, especially if they've loved the author's other books. However the suspension of disbelief, the entry into world we build for them, is usually much harder than that. The start, which will lead us away from the mundane (and safe) is a tricky thing. Yep mostly the reader wants to go... but not if you might be an axe murderer (or the wrong kind of book). I always put it this way: The first few pages of a book have severely overworked words, because they have do so much. They have to pick you up, carry you away to a different place, they have to make you care about the protagonist's fate (want to see them come a cropper is fine too), they have reassure the reader that actually the charming invitation to come to their place is not so you can be dismembered and served with fava beans (which strikes me as odd. What are the bits going to do with those beans?) and also advance the plot.
3) Show type of book (really, readers do not actually like surprises. They wanted an Aga-saga and you gave them horror with Aga-saga start, you'll have to be brilliant to get them to forgive you. They wanted fantasy - and you gave them sf - better hope you had them adoring the book before they figured it out. Yes. I am guilty. I hope readers forgave me. I was young and mislead by an evil companion, me.)
4) Invest emotion in protagonist (love or hate, but care)
5)Move the plot forward.
If you're a best-selling author that readers know will deliver you have some space to do these. If not... the sooner the better. We've talked about hook and somewhat about character.
Let's talk about setting and type of book. Now because these beginning words are multipurpose and overworked (poor things) these too can be part of the hook, part of the magic, part of the character dispay that gets you to care.
"I am a watchdog. My name is Snuff. I live with my master Jack outside of London now. I like Soho very much at night with its smelly fogs and dark streets. It is silent then and we go for long walks. Jack is under a curse from long ago...."
If anyone has any doubts what kind of book this is or what sort of setting they're being drawn into... I can recommend some pills :-)
Or to do it even quicker - "Once the palace of a thousand chambers had overwhelmed Imoshen...."
"The dragon flew above the rage of the elements. Above the tumultuous maelstrom of ocean swirling into the void. Above the sheet lightnings and vortexes of dark energies released as the tower fell, with the vast granite masonry shattering into swirling dust. A fierce delight filled his dragonish heart as he looked down on it."
Ok - let's see some starts that show setting and type. I'll try and offer constructive criticism. And you can see if I get it right. (And sweetlings, the reader is always right. If i don't get it, it's back to the drawing board. Or rather, keyboard. This applies to me, Stephen King or Joe-the-newbie. The reader is write... uh right.)
And which three books did I quote?