Is the focus of the novel revealed early? This question is at the top of contract evaluations I do for a publisher. Most of the time, I check No. Writers often move slowly in the beginning. They set up backstory and craft detailed irrelevant scenes. Two chapters later, I still don’t know what the premise is. The best stories jump right in and reveal what the character wants and/or what the character is up against to get what he wants.
Revealing the focus can be indirect. In a coming-of-age story I just evaluated, the first page opened with a mother having a confrontation with a customs inspector, as seen through her daughter’s eyes. It was clear the story would be about the family’s immigration and the daughter’s confrontations with her mother and her struggle to become independent. The scene was also filled with tension and did a great job of characterizing the mother. I was captivated (and I don’t usually read coming-of-age stories).
Start your story in the middle of a situation. Write a scene with dialogue, action, conflict, and/or yearning. Let the reader know what your story is about. You can always go back later and fill in background information.
What’s your favorite opening scene in a novel you’re read recently?