I've had to read several books by new authors recently and I've found that there are newbie mistakes that make me want to put the book down in the first chapter.
So I thought I'd share Rhys's Ten No-nos for opening chapters:
1. Don't introduce too many characters at once. We can't take in too many names and descriptions.
2. Don't give characters similar sounding names. If there is a Joan and a Jean in the room, I'll get them mixed up. If possible don't have names starting with the same letter.
3: Don't feel a need to describe everyone in the scene. It gets boring and overwhelming if we are told that a tall, distinguished gray haired man is talking to a short, red-headed, pudgy man. If the description is important then give us the sentence. If age and relationship don't come out through dialog, then do mention them. I like to know that Sarah is Isobel's mother and not her friend. But this can be done so easily through dialog. "Really, Mother, you're always criticizing."
4;Set the scene well so that we know where we are
5. Make it clear who is speaking, especially at the beginning of a book before we are familiar with the characters.
6: Make sure something happens in the first chapter. I don't mean that we need a dead body sprawled in the first paragraph but the reader has to have a reason to keep reading. I was once given an unpublished book in which the protagonist arrives at his mother's house, chats, has tea, goes to play tennis with her, in the midst of which she says "By the way dear, someone has kidnapped your father." Needless to say this book was never published!
7. Don't interrupt action to give us backstory. If there are things about the character's past that we need to know you can slip in a tantalizing line if you have to but save the details for later. It's more exciting that way.
8. Don't interrupt action to give us a personal description. Someone chasing a kidnapper is not likely to stop, look in a mirror and notice that her face was oval shaped.
9. Don't feel that you have to tell us everything right away. Think of a real life party. You meet someone... you get a first impression of them. They may reveal a fact or two about themself. You may overhear someone saying, "Such a pity about Sylvia." And you are intrigued. You may not find out about Sylvia until much later.
10: Don't start with "It was a dark and stormy night." Unless the weather is going to play a major role in your story find another way to start the book. Readers today are impatient. They need to be hooked right away, so work extra hard on that first paragraph.