Agent Carly Watters from PS Literary has written a “How to” writing book. Here is an excerpt:
Dos and Don’ts for the start of your novel:
1. Start as close to the action as you possibly can. No contrived build up. Place us right in the think of things.
2. Don’t tell us who the characters are and what they’re up to. Show us by placing us in the scene and let the reader work through it with the characters. It’s okay that we don’t know everything when we start.
3. It’s okay for the reader to be confused. That means they’ll want to connect the dots. Just don’t make the dots so far apart that no reader can find their way from one to the other.
4. Assume high intelligence on the part of the reader, that they’ll figure out the setting and the stakes of the characters – and want to.
5. Set up the stakes of the novel early. The reader wants to know why they are reading the book.
6. A literary novel does not mean it doesn’t have a plot or stakes. In fact they need to set those very early on too.
7. A commercial novel does not mean plot is all there is. There is setting of the scene and deepening of character motivation to be written.
8. Edit self-indulgent language from the start. No reader is going to want to continue to read something that is merely there to pat the author on the back.
9. Don’t try to get fancy with experimental structure. The established plot structure worked for Shakespeare and it will work for you.