When an agent or publisher first begins to read a manuscript, they can tell immediately from the opening sentences whether an author is practised at their craft. This sense of writing self-confidence – where a reader quickly feels that they’re in competent hands, and can just relax and enjoy the journey – is a key element to crafting strong commercial fiction, and something that agents and publishers are constantly on the lookout for. While to some extent this assured feel comes with experience, an author’s handling of exposition also has a lot to do with it: what information do you relate to the reader when?
This is a common problem for new authors. There’s often a perception that you need to tell a reader everything in the first chapter, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Readers are intrigued by mysteries; it’s what makes them turn pages. So instead of thinking that you must relate your characters’ back stories or the inner workings of your world immediately, make a game of holding these things back for as long as possible. Just present your world exactly as your characters live it, keeping in mind that they’ll normally have no reason to discuss or contemplate situations well known to them. Your story’s secrets – even minor ones – are precious possessions. Don’t give them up until you have to.
Crafting your work this way will soon come to be a habit – one which will increase both your own sense of control over your material, and the quality of your work. From the reader’s point of view, the result will be to feel that they’re in the hands of a confident writer: someone who not only has great secrets up their sleeve, but also possesses the craftsmanship to reveal them only when the time is right.