I don't know a single writer that got the beginning right on their first try. Personally, I've written 7--that's right--SEVEN different beginnings for Oracle. I'm still on my first for Insomnia--but I'm seriously considering a new one.
Beginnings have so many jobs. They have to:
1 - Hook the reader
~ It can be with emotion, attitude, action, voice, whatever works! Know the in's and out's of your genre intimately.
2 - Establish a bond between the reader and the MC (Main Character)
~ Some relatable emotions: sympathy, likability, inner conflict, empathy
3 - Establish the tone of the story
~ Make it clear who your genre and audience are, keep it consistent
4 - Introduce conflict
~ Who and Why are the first questions that have to be answered. Your reader won't care where they are until they decide if they care about your characters.
5 - Compel the reader to KEEP READING
~ If your reader doesn't feel the NEED to do this, they might not continue--then it doesn't matter what else you do.
That is a serious amount to expect from the first chapter, it's no wonder they are so hard to write--but guess what. The first chapter probably isn't enough. You probably need to do that in the first page or two if you want to really grab that reader.
Another crucial part to a beginning is the promise. Every conflict expects a resolution. You are promising to resolve it in one way or another. It is important we keep that promise for the reader.
One of the hardest things about beginnings is deciding when to begin. Here are a few tips I've learned lately:
~ Make a Timeline
*** When does the story start chronologically? When does it start emotionally? How does it end? Try different things, different openings. The first beginning you write will almost never be the one you actually use. Always remember: Start Late/End Early. Allowing the reader to enter when the action does and leave when the action does keeps up the momentum.
~ Don't use Gimmicks or Crutches
*** A reader will see through action that is unessential to the story. Dreams, withholding information the Main Character knows, throwing in a shocking scene that otherwise has no point--these are almost always cheating. The story itself should hook the reader. The fact that they are reading your book means they are instilling a certain amount of trust in you to write it correctly. Don't cheat them, or that trust will be gone.
~ To Prologue, or Not to Prologue
*** How do you know if you need it? Nathan Bransford did a great post on this awhile back in which he said if the story was complete without it, then you should take it out. Prologues that are there to set the mood are unnecessary. Make the story set the mood. If a prologue is necessary then it should be short, self-contained, and comprehensible.
~ Trust Your Instincts (For me, this was the hardest one to learn)
*** Ultimately, this is your story. Only you know the right way to tell it.