After all, first impressions matter.
For some readers, a good opening chapter will make a difference between them closing the book and finishing it. So yeah. It's pretty darn important.
On the other hand, it's common to find people who work their butts off on the first lines and neglecting the rest of the chapter or on the first chapter and neglecting the rest of the book.
It sort of makes me think of a guy with this body:
And these legs:
See when we focus on one portion of a book too much at the expense of others, the story could (and often does) come out looking lop-sided.
Most of the places I've read about beginnings talk about hooking readers with the first line. About how important the first lines are and so on. Those aren't wrong, but there's more to hooking a reader than a first line. In fact, I see an excellent first line as something of a bonus. A sweet sensation I enjoy for all of half a second before moving onto the rest of the story.
According to me, the beginnings are there to serve two purposes:
1) To introduce at least one character in a way that draws the reader to the story. If not to the character.
2) To set up the story in a way that leads the reader into the rest of the plot. That's why personally I'm not a huge fan of opening in dream sequences or in the middle of action.
Both of these must be done in a way that moves into the second chapter without a hitch.
It's incredibly important to draw the reader in, but the effort can't stop at the end of the first line or even the first chapter. It stops at the end of the story.
Not a moment before that.
Look Out for These:
1) The beginning differing in tone or pacing from the rest of the story.
2) The characters are introduced, but with telling or in another way that bores or irritates the reader.
3) The opening not setting up the rest of the story plot-wise. If the first chapter doesn't slot into the subsequent chapters in a way that affects the rest of the story, it's better to start somewhere else.
How do you do your beginnings? Do you write it first and make the rest of the story fit, or do you write the story and tailor the beginning to fit?