It's that time again, contest season (is there a season, or is this just when I'm judging a lot?), and I'm noticing something.

Good openings are hard to do. It's tricky to get a character on the page, let the reader know what she needs to know, and get the ball rolling. There's a balance to be found, isn't there?

My favorite openings begin with a character in crisis. And I don't mean running from a killer either (though that can work too!). I mean someone encountering something they usually don't. Being forced to make choices and act.

I hate set up. I hate a character angsting about a situation and telling me all the bad things that have recently happened in order to get me up to speed. Just dump me in the thick of it and let me figure it out!

Long passages of our emotionally torn heroine thinking about what went wrong when her sister ran away with the circus clown, and how that meant she had to go tell the hunky hero what her sister had done — and, oh yeah, turns out he now owns or controls something very important to her — while checking her hair and eyes in the mirror and talking about how she doesn't feel sexy these days…..

Um, no. Don't like. Not enough to make me want to keep reading.

But openings with immediate drama and tension, I'm there. And yet I think writers sometimes get confused about what constitutes immediate drama and tension. A person on the run from something in and of itself isn't enough. There must be some kind of sense for the reader of the stakes. What will be lost if a character I don't even know gets caught?

Which, I suppose, comes down to this: Make me care about your character. I'm not sure this can be taught in 3 easy lessons. It must be learned over time and with much practice, I think.

I have often rewritten my first chapters until they were right. I've rewritten first scenes a dozen times, until it clicked. I don't always get it right, but I'm not simply satisfied with an evocative first line and then a bunch of backstory.

Get the ball rolling. It doesn't matter what Famous Alice Author does. It matters what YOU do.

What are your favorite types of openings? Least favorite?