I spent some time reading fellow editor Christine Fairchild's Editor Devil blog yesterday and was struck by the following paragraph:
Of the many techniques I learned from studying film and scriptwriting, my favorite is “enter late, leave early.” This means your scene is really just a middle slice out of a sequence of events (i.e. it does not contain all the events).
I'd been struggling a little with how to explain to a client why the start of his novel was dull and Christine's comments reminded me of something I learned in a literature class early in graduate school. Drop your characters "in media res" was the advice: in the middle of things. Don't give all the background, don't set everything up, don't have the main character get up, brush her teeth, feed the cat, etc., as Christine notes, just drop them into the middle and hook your reader.
My client, I'll call him Steve, has several chapters of background. In and of itself, the historical reasons for the story are quite fascinating but they don't put me in the story itself and that's where I want to be, from page one.