As I mentioned in my NaNoWriMo finishing post, I thought part of my problem with the novel I was working on was that I had started the story too early. This can be problematic, certainly.
It's hard to decide the point at which a story "starts". Sure, my story starts when I was born, say, but is that the most interesting part of my life? Certainly the circumstances of my birth might be considered interesting. When you're writing a novel, when do your characters' "on camera" lives start, and what is just backstory?
Backstory isn't bad, per se. You want to know what made somebody the person they are. But how much of it needs to be extensively narrated, and how much can be woven into the story as the action is taking place? You want there to be action, certainly. Action is what drives a story, what drives the characters from A to B to C. Action is what catches peoples' interests.
Nobody talks about Stepan Arkadyich's political tendencies and the running of his farm in Anna Karenina; they talk about Anna, and her affair. Really, she's in so little of the novel, it's strange to me that it's even called "Anna Karenina". In the edition I read, you don't even meet her until page 30, and she exits stage train long before the end of the novel. Maybe Russian novels aren't the best examples when talking about action, but in Crime and Punishment, certainly, everybody remembers the crime, and things like Raskilnikov's dream. The punishment is a bit longer in coming.
So, as I'm figuring out how to write a synopsis for Learn to Howl before entering a "final edit" stage (Angry Robot books is having an unagented, unsolicited submission period, deadline December 31), I'm keeping this in mind. Does Learn to Howl start where it ought to? Should the opening be reworked (again)?
How do you determine when your story starts?