After the difference that Les Edgerton's book 'Finding your voice' made to me, I recently bought his book 'Hooked' to peruse as well.
Having received several more rejections of Rurik - in which the sentence 'it didn't really grab me' featured yet again - it's starting to become very clear that I have to do something different to what I am doing in order to catch an agent's attention. I think the opening is probably part of it.
Les talks in Hooked about lots of things you can improve to make your opening the best it can be, but the one I learnt most from was about identifying the 'inciting incident' - the thing that happens in the story that is the REAL reason the main character embarks on the journey that I, as the writer, take them on. He offers some useful examples which made me realise I had not identified the correct 'inciting incident' in Rurik...assuming I've understood this right!
Rurik's story opens with him waking up and cursing the fact he's not 13. He ponders for a while about the death of his father, which has meant the poor kid can't become an apprentice cobbler as planned. There is no money left to buy a new apprenticeship and Rurik's mother must remarry within 12 months to keep her home. So, over breakfast, Rurik's uncle offers to take the boy on as his apprentice instead - only Rurik has no idea what his uncle's job entails.
If Les is reading this, he's probably face-palming right now, because I've just listed at least three of the pet hates of editors and agents about openings; waking up, internal dialogue, eating breakfast...and I didn't even mention the backstory. Sorry, Les.
Laying all that aside, there's actually a bigger problem for me here; I'm struggling to decide what the inciting incident is - is it the death of Rurik's father, which sets off the whole train of events? Or is it actually the moment at which Rurik finds out about the plan for his new apprenticeship?
Gut feeling tells me it could well be the latter, in which case, I have also found my 'story-worthy problem' - the finding of a new apprenticeship. Not, as I'd originally thought, Rurik's adventure to find an object which is lost.
If that's the case, then I need to start my story later. Not much later, granted; but it definitely needs to start at the point where Rurik finds out about the apprenticeship. I feel a rewrite coming on...
If, like me, you're struggling with grabbing your reader from the start, it might be worth looking at Hooked. It might just make the all the difference.