I once heard literary agent Donald Maass give a workshop on his Writing the Breakout Novel. One thing he said I will always remember -- backstory is called backstory because it belongs in the back of the story.
Too many beginning writers make one big mistake -- loading their first scene, first chapter, first quarter of the book with way too much backstory. They feel that the reader won't understand their protagonist, their plot, their world, unless they TELL ALL upfront. However, this usually deadens the forward movement, the energy of the story, and leaves the reader without any urgent mystery to propel them onward.
One of the most important mysteries you should be pushing your reader to discover is the compelling backstory you’ve withheld. Think about JKR. Her masterful withholding of backstory is the energy that thrust the reader not only through the first book, but the next several to come as well.
Take a look at these key Harry Potter series mysteries, based on backstory, that readers were dying to know:
- What actually happened in Godric's Hollow?
- Which side was Snape truly on?
- Why did Voldemort want to kill a one-year-old baby ?
- What did Dumbledore see in the Mirror of Erised?