So I've been honestly racking my brain for things to write about here. I know I haven't covered anywhere near every topic ever, but I'm also afraid of repeating myself. However, I'm not too sure that I've actually talked much about individual plot components.
Let's change that, shall we? I'll even start from the beginning.
Ya'll all remember that "plot mountain" from elementary and middle school. Personally, I've always hated it; then again, I'm not much of a visual learner. At the same time, it is a good, basic visual, and it always starts with the exposition.
Exposition = (roughly) your first chapter/page/250 words. Choose any of the above. It's the very beginning, the hook of your book, the little shiny thing that needs to catch your reader's eyes. It needs to be interesting, in some way; it needs to invite your reader to keep turning the page.
What's the magic formula for this? Sadly, there isn't one. Some say start with action, others with something slower. Granted, there's both pros and cons to both of those (if the beginning of your novel is too slow your reader will get bored, and if you shove them in the middle of an action scene too willy-nilly, they'll get lost). There's an extremely delicate balance of excitement and background that needs to be involved in writing the beginning of your novel.
It can also be seen or said that the way you can start your novel depends on the genre. I kind of figure this baloney. This would be the thing that says action-filled beginnings go with thrillers/action/dystopian/sci-fi and slower go with gen-fic and contemporary. One look around the bookstore should debunk that myth pretty well for you, though.
In addition to grabbing your reader, your exposition has a few other things to get done: introduce your main character(s), establish a setting (including helping the reader establishing a genre), and pave the way for your inciting incident. That's a big job.
And like I said, there's no right way. Basically you've got to do what's right in your gut, and don't be afraid to move your beginning around once you're in the second, third, fourth, etc. draft until you find the right place and the right way to suck your reader in.
There is a bit of help I can provide you with: The Write Life has this list compiled from a bunch of literary agents, quoting them on the worst ways to begin a novel, and I've found it extremely helpful and occasionally funny. It includes the obvious:
-Do not begin with your character waking up slowly
-Do not have your character look in the mirror and describe themselves
-Do not fake out the reader: the entire first chapter's only a dream? Waste of time.
Something else to be aware of is the weight that voice has. First person, third person? It doesn't matter. Every writer and character has a voice, and I would put money on the fact that you can pull off almost any kind of exposition with the right voice. Find it, study it, explore it, write it.
Magic formula for beginning a novel? @Rae_Slater talks exposition and why that magic formula doesn't exist. (Click to Tweet)
That thing called exposition. Why the hook of your novel is so important, and why there is no right answer. (Click to Tweet)