I just finished reading a great book by Dean Koontz. The Good Guy maintains a driven pace. There are no flashbacks whatsoever, and you really only get a good dose of backstory at the very end of the book.
Wanting to know is one of the mysteries that keeps the book riveting.
Backstory is dangerous in unskilled hands. It interrupts the now-story. There isn't as much drama and tension with stuff that's already happened. The outcome is known. It's very tricky to build anxiety when everyone is still breathing, and you know there's no chance of that changing.
I'm wary of writing backstory. The only reason to use it is to help anchor the present situation. If I can show things about my character over time (like Koontz does in The Good Guy), rather than tell things about my character, I'm not only not interrupting the pace, but maybe I'm adding to it.
I treat backstory like a strong spice. Too much and the flavor I'm going for is ruined and there's nothing to do but start over. (Well, with writing I've got the Delete key. I love that key, don't you? It gives me such a sense of freedom.)
I wish all of you a remarkably wonderful 2009, filled with spiritual, personal and professional growth. A year that includes amazing-good reads, and contracts galore.
Currently reading: Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg. (I know it's not a suspense, but we all need dimension in our lives. Plus, just seeing her name cracks me up.)
Working on: I asked for and received a Mac laptop for Christmas. I think I'm going to love it, but during this setup phase? Oy.
It's all better with friends.