There are other usual beginnings that I've seen in the last six years since I wrote my first book from new writers who have asked me to look at their first few chapters. I'm going to list some here and talk about why these aren't the best way to begin your novel, and how hooks are the way to go.
1. A dream - Like I said above, I did this also. But suffice it to say, never, ever start a book this way - especially if it's an action scene. You have just ruined the excitement for the reader and they might shut your book right there. Another thing, do not ever end a book with telling the reader that the entire book was a dream. The reader might hunt you down if they were really into your story.
Your story needs to begin right at the beginning of the "story". What do I mean by that? Well, whoever is your main character suddenly finds themselves in a dilemma outside their ordinary life. Example: Your protagonist realizes someone is following them. Her house is broke in to, as if they're searching for something, and she has no idea what it could be. Another example: A stranger walks up and tells the main character their life is in danger and to follow them if they want to live.
See, the story begins right there, not a week before, or years before. If it is something like "years before" that's a good one for a prologue. A lot of publishers don't like prologues, but I do, so it's your decision. But even with that, no large amounts of back story or info dump. The prologue should be immediate.
2. Not enough dialog - If you open your book with pages of narrative, you will bore your readers half to death. This is one of the reasons I never liked The Shack, written by, William P. Young. The beginning went on and on with info dump. I tried to stay with the book, but I think after all that, I couldn't get into it. I never finished it.
I have been told this is a "red flag" for editors and publishers because they are looking for white space. New authors tend to try to tell a lot of backstory in the beginning, which is not necessary. You need to weave in whatever backstory you feel is really important to the story, not write it all down in the first chapter.
Your reader will want to meet and get to know your characters so you need dialog early on, but not too early - the reader won't know what's going on and will get confused.
3. Starting with dialog - Not a good thing to do. The problem with this is the reader knows nothing about the character so introduce him/her by beginning their story through their experience at that moment. Then introduce another character through dialog.
Remember a character's thoughts are a form or dialog - interior monologue. Most of the time, look for another way to begin your story.
4. Hooks - Hooks are intriguing or action sentences used to keep the reader wanting to turn the page. There are quite a few ways to hook your reader. Starting your book in the heart of the action is one. Example: A bullet whizzed past my head. It skimmed the tip of my ear and pierced the tree behind me. That's one way, another: "I almost died that day."
There are many opening lines that have been used to grab a reader immediately. At a conference I had attended seven years ago I learned about hooks and inciting incident. Inciting incident is the event or decision that begins a story's problem. Hooks are a way to make the reader interested in the story and want to turn the page.
My understanding is to hook the reader from the very first sentence. To try to word it in a way that makes it intriguing right off the bat. Next, the sentence at the end of the first paragraph, then the end of the first page, and at the end of the first chapter. If you really want to hold on, make the first sentence in the second chapter just as intriguing.
I also have always tried to make the endings of each scene a good hook too.
I know it seems like a lot of creative writing skills that you have to remember, but it is worth it in the end. Take it one page at a time and learn from others as you go along. Revising your rough draft is highly recommended, and do it several times. I know there are those who disagree, but the fact is those who have argued this point with me aren't getting anywhere with sales - or writing for that matter.
Writing a book is not easy, not by any stretch of the imagination. But to take the time to learn and grow in your writing skills makes you that much better of a writer. If you want to publish and sell books, take the time to become the best writer you can be.
Have a great weekend all,