I recently attended Kristin Cashore's reading of Fire at the Harvard Bookstore. Afterwards, I bought a copy of Graceling and started reading it as I waited in the signing line. By the time my turn arrived, I was hooked. Cashore does a great job of engaging the reader right away. Here's why I think it effectively drew me in:
1. The story starts with movement.
In these dungeons the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind. One that had so far proven correct, as Oll's maps tended to do. Katsa ran her hand along the cold walls and counted doors and passageways as she went...
The opening paragraph puts us in the middle of something interesting -- a heroine running through a dungeon. A few paragraphs later, she single handedly defeats 5 dungeon guards. Intriguing. I wanted to know more.
2. The opening establishes the main character as worth rooting for.
...Oll and Giddon, and most of the rest of the secret Council, had wanted her to kill [the dungeon guards]. But at the meeting to plan this mission, she'd argued that killing them would gain no time. . . .
She wouldn't kill, not if she didn't have to. A killing couldn't be undone, and she'd killed enough....
For a reader to invest several hours in a character, he has to be convinced that the character is worth rooting for. Given that our first impression of Katsa is fairly violent, it's not clear immediately whether she is likeable or sympathetic. Therefore, it was helpful for Cashore to establish early on that Katsa, though deadly, has principles and sticks to them.
3. There is a Sexy Mysterious Guy on page 12 -- ahem, I mean -- It ends with a mystery.
...She caught the fall of every leaf in the garden, the rustle of every branch. And so she was astonished when a man stepped out of the darkness and grabbed her from behind. He wrapped his arm around her chest and held a knife to her throat. He started to speak, but in an instant she had deadened his arm, wrenched the knife from his hand, and thrown the blade to the ground. She flung him forward, over her shoulder.
He landed on his feet.
We spent the first few pages watching Katsa beating multiple armed men senseless with her bare hands. Now someone manages to sneak up on superhuman Katsa without her knowing, and when she throws him, he lands on his feet? Who is this guy? The scene ends without revealing the mystery man's identity, an I keep reading to find out more.
In your story openings, do you give thought to drawing the reader in? What are your strategies?