My favorite tips from Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel (yes, has a workbook as Marianne mentioned on Monday, that I want to tackle next):
1. Layer your premise. Don't give in to stereotypes or the "easy" plot turn or obvious choice. Choose the non-obvious option when it comes time for plot and character development.
2. Make the stakes high - and then higher. What happens if your character fails in his/her journey? Is it big enough? Make it bigger. This doesn't have to be "world-ending." But it should, in some sense, be the end of the world as your characters know it. Give them discomfort. Make the risks huge, and worth it.
3. Make your reader care about your characters. How? Give them WIT, SPONTNEITY, FORGIVENESS, AND SELF-SACRIFICE. What great qualities, really. How can you work them into your own novel?
4. Give the beginning high tension. The ending should somehow, someway, be suggested in your opening sentence/paragraph/section. Make the reader want to continue. What tension exists? Draw the reader on. This is a tough but crucial one.
So...I went back to the drawing board and am tackling the opening chapters again, with these thoughts in mind. I think it makes a difference - it seems to so far. We'll see!