It's easy to fill the first pages/chapters with background information about the main characters--I mean, come on! How else is a reader supposed to get to know and identify with them, right?
Wrong. That's backwards actually. A reader isn't going to care about the background information, the stuff that makes our characters tick, UNTIL they know and identify with them.
Think about it. When I'm first introduced to MC Bob in a novel, I don't care about his heart being broken a few years ago. I don't care about his allergy to cinnamon. Okay? So don't tell me that stuff. Throw me straight into the action - capture me immediately. Because once I've seen Bob in action--or at least in some sort of tense situation, I'm much more likely to be interested in smaller details.
Once we're past the beginning, tell me what I need to know. If Bob just can't connect with his girlfriend, Steph, I'll be curious about past heartbreaks. When Steph can't handle his intimacy issues, and adds cinnamon to a homecooked meal in retaliation - THAT'S when I care about Bob's allergy. See what I'm saying?
Don't begin with your MC planning to murder someone. Begin with the MC having just completed the murder.
Over the weekend I watched G.I.Joe: The Rise of Cobra. (Um, hello... Channing Tatum anyone? Yes please!) And I must say--the movie starts exactly the way I'm trying to describe with this post. Without giving away anything too significant, here's how the movie begins:
1st: Channing's (character Duke's) Army unit is transporting extremely dangerous warheads. (Enter tension & hook.)
2nd: The unit is attacked by a super stealthy opposing force and a lot of people are killed. The bad guys steal the warhead. And the kicker? The woman who steals it is someone Channing knows. (Expand tension & major hook!)
3rd: Before the bad woman can get away with the warhead a different team shows up and takes it back. This new team is full of good guys, but Channing has no idea who they are. He travels with them and learns about the G.I. Joe program. And he joins them, temporarily, to keep the warhead safe and complete his mission. (BAM. Thrown straight into the story.)
All three things happen in the VERY beginning. I was completely hooked. (Okay, Channing could hook me in a movie of him staring at a wall for two hours, but still...) Throughout the movie, I found out more about his connection with the woman. I learned more about his past and who he was. And at the points I learned those things, I wanted to know them! Had I learned them all in the beginning, I would have been really bored.