So, you are in a book shop, you are browsing along the shelves and you've found a book that interests you. The cover has attracted you and the title intrigued. The price is within budget and the author is already liked by you or, at least, is someone whom you've always felt you should read.
What makes you buy it or stick it back onto the shelf?
For me, it's the intro. No, not the blurb on the fly leaf, the quotes from reviews of previous books by the same author, or the "let me be your father/mother" picture of the poor mutt who has written the thing, but rather his/her first few words of the story. From that introduction (or intro, as we old newspaper hacks used to call the first sentence or paragraph), I feel I can usually judge whether I want to invest in the book.
As a result, I usually deploy a quite disproportionate time and effort in constructing the first paragraph of my novels. I suspect that that is quite true of most other authors too and I feel that I can usually tell those who don't. Certainly, some great intro's have become classical cliches, viz:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"... A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
"Last night I dreamed I went again to Manderlay"... Rebecca (du Maurier)
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single
man in possession of a good fortune must be in want
of a wife"... Pride and Prejudice (Austen)
Of course I don't aspire to that greatness (and I think that the immortal Jane wouldn't get away with that sort of intro in these chick-lit days) but I try to discipline myself to begin each Fonthill story by putting the reader directly into the action. It doesn't always work. I couldn't really make it click in the opening to The Guns of El Kebir - you can't exactly slip in a bit of mouthwatering action at a breakfast table in Brecon - but I particularly liked the scene setting at the beginning of The Diamond Frontier and also for The Siege of Khartoum. But I may well be wrong.
Let me know what you think.