Okay, so, I've spent a lot of time ruminating over the issue of how to properly write the first part of a novel...I've even written a blog post on here about overcoming the "wall of words" problem. There are a lot of issues to take into mind, but the most important...the one I've been chewing on for the last couple months now...is The Hook.
As silly as it sounds, if the first few pages of a novel don't suck in the reader, it doesn't matter how good the book is. It doesn't matter how solid the characters are. It doesn't matter how sharp the dialogue is. It doesn't matter how epic the story is. If a reader gets bored after the prologue, you're in trouble.
I've figured out what needs to happen. The first 1-3 pages of any novel has to be engineered to present a specific feeling:
"There's more at stake here than meets the eye."
Check it out. Look at the beginnings of any of your favorite novels. They all start with something happening that bates you, that leaves out some important pieces of information. Either the characters are confused and intrigued, or as a reader you're jumping into the middle of a conversation that you'd need to hear the beginning of to know what's going on (in a sense).
Dune begins with Paul pretending to be asleep while people talk about him, about rituals he's going to have to go through, rituals he knows nothing about.
Lathe of Heaven begins with George waking from a twisted nightmare, surrounded by paramedics, who notice that he just took a very strange, very dangerous mixture of drugs. He incoherently explains that he took them so that he could try and stop himself from dreaming, and that he's been doing this for a couple months.
Macbeth being with the three Weird Sisters speaking in riddles about an upcoming meeting with Macbeth, with heavy implications that this is not a good thing (to say the least).
All throw out bits of details. All produce a specific type of confusion and anticipation: "What's going on?" It's this that should carry the reader through the sometimes difficult and sometimes slow first few parts of a story, when they have to get to know and get used to the characters and the situation and what-not.
And, even though it pains me to admit it, I failed to pull this off with my novel Imperfect. I believe I can remedy it easily enough, by re-doing the prologue. Stay tuned. I'll probably post it here soon.