So you want to know how to write great opening pages to your novel? Here is the secret: FINISH YOUR NOVEL FIRST.
Now, of course, this is an opinion, but I wouldn’t post this if I didn’t believe it to be true. You cannot fathom the amount of time I have spent in the past re-working and revising the opening few chapters of the many novels I have started. It is probably as astronomical as it is idiotic.
I have also thought in the past that if you were working off of an established outline (where you already knew most of the plot points) that you could easily focus on perfecting the opening chapters first and foremost. However, it doesn’t usually come out the way your outline said it would. New characters pop up, new motives arise and make characters act differently, the antagonist doesn’t seem to be as antagonizing anymore.
You novel is a living and breathing thing that will change over and over again. There is no way around it. When you start it, the picture you have in your mind will not resemble exactly the picture you see when you type “The End.” It will have evolved into so much more. And because of that, it is really hard to perfect your introduction to something that isn’t fully developed yet.
Now, does this mean you can’t write the first chapter at all? Definitely not. You can start with your initial ‘beginning” in your head, but just be open to the idea that, most likely, your perfect beginning might change. I am also open to changing the beginning AS you work farther down into your novel. I am a firm believer that a first idea is never the best but, instead, the gateway into considering better ideas. So, as I have started this new manuscript, I began with my initial thoughts on a starting point. When that was completed, I worked into my second chapter and realized it would be much more dramatic and catchy to switch the two scenes (so my second chapter came first now). It made things much more intense to start and emphasized my original first chapter points with more clarity. I suspect that as the novel grows, this will change again.
I would not start to really get down and dirty editing with a fine-toothed comb, though, until the novel is in a completed first draft. I understand the opening pages are the most important, especially if they are the only thing a potential agent reads to decide if they want your work. But the work has to be completed before you can really know if the beginning pages are the best beginning for your story.
Anyone else care to share his or her experiences with the opening pages to a novel – and how you manage to make them great?