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One thing that is just as important in non-fiction as in fiction is a beginning. No matter what you are writing, whether it be a paper on the history of plumbing or a fast-paced thriller novel, you've got to get your beginning right.
Beginnings should introduce the topic at hand, let the reader know what they are about to read. Are you writing an essay on the history of donuts? You better have a thesis sentence in your opening paragraphs that lets the reader know that right up front. Or maybe you're writing a romantic suspense novel. Somewhere in that first chapter, the reader should what type of book they are reading. Meaning, that beginning needs to introduce both the romance and the suspense.
This doesn't mean you need to lay all your cards out on the table. For non-fiction, you usually are more open about what you are discussing, but even here you can hold back a little, give the reader a hint of what your arguments are, but save your big slamdunk winning evidence for the body of the essay or paper. (Though for non-fiction, you'll generally want to list your arguments from strongest to weakest instead of saving the best for last).
And for fiction, you can definitely keep a few surprises in store. But by the end of the first chapter, the reader should know what the main problem is, the issue the MC will be struggling with throughout the book, and by extension, they should know what type of book they are reading. For example, if by the end of the first chapter, the MC, who is a titled young lady who lives in Victorian England, has met a cute boy and seen a ghost, I have a pretty good idea it's going to be a paranormal historical with at least a hint of romance.
Beginnings can be difficult to nail and are something I always struggle with, especially in fiction. My first chapter NEVER ends up being my "real" first chapter. For non-fiction this isn't as much of an issue because you can, and should, come right out and say "this is what I'm discussing and here are my main arguments."
But it can still be difficult to get that opening exactly right. In fact, while in line edits with my soon-to-be-published book on writing essays and term papers, my editor and I ended up adding a whole new first chapter...because there was important information my readers need that I had buried in the middle of the book instead of showcasing right from the start.
So take your time on your beginnings. The beginning is what hooks your reader, no matter what genre you may be writing. It's worth it to get it right.
How do you do with beginnings? Are they easy for you, or do you, (like me), spend more time on them than the rest of the book put together? :)