(This is an abridged version of a plotting handout.)
The beginning of your novel should:
* Engage the reader: You want your reader interested from the first line. I prefer to use "engage" rather than the more commonly used "hook" because I think it can lead to a problem -- see my next two points.
* Bear in mind the tone and pace of your story. Don't think you have to grab your readers by the throat and drag them into your story; a gentle invitation can work, too.
* Don't start off one way thinking you will grab your readers' interest, then switch the tone of the story. In other words, if you start off with a gun fight or other action-packed opening, your reader's going to expect a really fast-paced, action-packed book. Don't then switch to a character-driven, emotionally intense story with a lot of introspection. Otherwise, you'll wind up with a lot of unhappy readers.
* What do you do well? Description of setting? Dialogue? Lead with your strong suit.
* Introduce the main characters: who are they and why should I care? What makes then interesting and unique?
* Create the world: time, place, special qualities, details, dialogue, dialect (use sparingly so as not to distance the reader)
* Identify the enemy: internal (characters' inner conflicts that work against the relationship) and external (the external reasons the relationship seems doomed)
Just a few little things, eh? :-)