Still, sometimes,none of this works. What then?
One of my friends suffers from first-chapter-itis. She’s been told so many times that first chapters are vital and how they must do all this work that she freezes on first chapters. Her first chapters tend to meander all over the place instead of getting to the point, and sometimes give completely the wrong impression what type of book this is.
I’ve learned not to say anything. I let her finish the book and then tell her, “Now, you see, the first chapter should match the book in this, this, and this way.” By that time she can usually also see it.
In the few times I couldn’t get the voice right till the book was finished, going back to redo the first chapter solved it. Well, almost every time.
With Darkship Renegades, on deadline, I let it go into the publisher still sure it wasn’t right. Three months later, as it was about to go to typeset, I realized what I had done wrong and sent in a new beginning. (Sometimes I wonder why my publishing house hasn’t set fire to me yet. I suspect the reason is that they’re either unusually merciful or I’ve driven them completely insane.)
In that case my difficulties were complicated by it being a sequel and my not being sure what the reader needed to know right up front to enjoy the book. Turns out it was far less than what I’d included.
So, if you absolutely can’t start a book right, do try to go past it. At some point you’ll relax and the voice of your voice in the particular version needed for that novel will come pouring out, and then you can go back and fix the beginning.
Most of all remember what a colleague of mine, David Weber, said at a science-fiction con back in 2007: You can make all sorts of mistakes, and your book can still be compelling. The most important thing is the voice. And the most important part of the voice is your confidence. If you’re sure that you can take the reader to the end of his journey and entertain him along the way, the reader will be too. If you waffle and hesitate, then the reader will think you aren’t very sure of your material. Readers want to feel they are in the hands of an experienced author, and will forgive almost anything if they are.
Now, as someone who often has to build her self-confidence daily, I can’t tell you how to acquire any, except by telling you, “If you don’t have it, fake it.” Put yourself in the mind of a really confident character, and let him tell the story. (Well, it works for me.)
Or just tell it anyway. You can always find the voice in revision.