I read a really great article over the weekend by a favorite author, Amy Sue Nathan, that I would love for you to read. Go check it out. Go ahead, click and read it. I'll wait here . . . maybe I'll pop onto the treadmill for a couple of minutes or have a piece of pie or . . . no, I'll work on my client's manuscript . . .
Oh, hi, you're back. Great. Good thoughts, huh? So many writers do try to keep their readers guessing about what exactly is going on. And yes, backstory is often a treacherous path, but I don't think that Nathan is encouraging us to info dump in the first scene of a story. Rather, she's saying that readers stay engaged in a story when they feel connected to the characters. Your reader needs to know your characters and your story in the first scene. No need to dump backstory, but put your reader in the middle of the action, right where the story is going to happen from the very first paragraph.
That is great advice, especially for someone like me--the queen of the info dump. My issue isn't trying to keep readers in suspense by not telling too much; my problem is giving the protagonist's entire life story in the first three chapters of the book. You can lose your reader either way--making them guess what's up in your story or burying them in too much backstory.
My editor, the amazing Lani Diane Rich has been known to simply remove the first five chapters of more than one of my books and say, "Okay, start the story here!" It's usually the place where the heroine is in the action and not looking back at how she got there. It may have been gorgeous writing, but it was unnecessary writing. Sometimes though, I need to write parts of the story that don't belong in the book--it's backstory for me, not my readers. Once it's out, I can go on and write the story.
"In most reading experiences, readers today do not turn too many pages because of beautiful writing alone. They turn the pages because the story compels them to do so. From page one."I love that thought! So, I'm focused on that great beginning . . . the one that will draw my readers in and make them want to stay with me.