In March I was lucky enough to be in a critique group led by Jennifer Nielson, author of The False Prince, at Writing for Charity .
#1: Info Dumps
Don't try to dump a whole ton of info into your reader's lap in the first chapter. Start in some action. Let the details about the awesome world you've created trickle out.
#2: Emotional Immediacy
Give the sense of immediacy, the emotional tension. What is at stake at the beginning? Whatever it is, move it to the first page. Make sure your reader knows what the risk is for your main character. Are they scared? Lonely? Sad? Worried about something? Running away? Hiding? Make sure we know what is bothering your main character because then we, as the reader, will be bothered, too. And we'll keep reading!
#3: Right Age
If you're writing for middle graders, make sure you don't make your characters too old. And, of course, this is something you have to think about for any book or story you write. For example, you don't see a whole lot of ninety year old men as the main character in picture books. For some reason, toddlers just don't identify with them. Although, they have a lot in common when you think about it...like lack of teeth.
#4: Something Wrong
Jennifer said, "It's the wrongness that turns the page." Yes, start with problems! Not with the world at peace.
#5: Time Periods
Give some hint right off the bat what time period you've set your book in. Don't make us swim around trying to figure out where we're at. It's like those big maps at the mall with the "You Are Here" signs. We need to know where, or rather, when we're at. Give us a sign.
Watch your adverbs and adjectives. I know they're super crazy amazingly fun, but seriously, watch how many of these fabulous words you decide to add into your lovely work of great fiction.
Yeah. There can definitely be too much of a good thing.
If you have to write one, just make sure it isn't bad.
You need to be able to summarize your story in just a few short sentences. If someone asks you to tell them briefly about your novel and you need oodles of paragraphs to get the point across....mmmmmm....you need to find a way to condense it a bit. Maybe your story is too complicated? Or maybe you don't actually know what it's truly about yet? I don't know. But something is amiss.
#9: Start with a bang! (which is very similar to #4, but it's worth repeating)
Start with excitement. Trouble. Mayhem. Chaos. Don't have blah and boring beginning. Really look at how you start. Are you serving your reader plain oatmeal without sugar and hoping they'll keep eating it?
Or are you giving them something better? Like brown sugar oatmeal with raisins, cinnamon and butter.