Defining Backstory: Backstory is a device for writers to reveal to the readers some of the character’s history or history underlying the situation for the storyline. It is also known as back-story or background. It explains how the character became who he is and why he thinks or acts in a certain way. Characters, like real people, are influenced by what happens in their lives: their family life, friends, enemies, era grew up in, education, experiences, tragedies, phobias, and more.

Purposes of Backstory:

  1. To reveal important information about the main characters
  2. To depict a story world
  3. To give depth to characters and understand who they are, why they think or act in certain ways
  4. To supports the character’s motivation
  5. To reveals the character’s fears
  6. To explain the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist

Problems with Backstory:

  1. The author has a wealth of knowledge about the character’s background and struggles with wanting to immediately reveal all of it to the reader, over-kill through knowledge dumping.
  2. Too little backstory can make a story appear to thin, with no “meat” to the characters.
  3. Too much backstory can bog a story’s progress down.
  4. Giving the reader more backstory than they need to know and confusing them.

Ways to Reveal Backstory:

  1. Flashbacks: Interjecting a scene from the past by using inner dialogue.
  2. Dialogue: Using a conversation, especially an argument, to reveal backstory and conflict.
  3. Narration: The author using an omniscient point of view to reveal backstory; best used in plays.
  4. Recollection: Using a character’s memory of something, introspection, to reveal backstory.
  5. Inner Dialogue: Providing backstory in a character’s thoughts.

Tips for Using Backstory:

  1. Insert backstory in small pieces that don’t slow the forward movement down.
  2. Decide what you are trying to do within a scene and insert only what backstory might be necessary for the reader to know in that particular moment.
  3. Avoid using author narration as it takes the reader away from the story.
  4. Keep flashbacks to a minimum and use only to reveal a specific character or event that is necessary for the reader to know.
  5. Reveal tidbits of background throughout the story’s action.
  6. Reveal details to evoke specific images and feelings that the reader needs to “see” at that time.

© 2010 Starla Kaye

The Smarts Button

This website is the work of Starla Criser, an author who has published more than 50 stories, both traditionally and through self-publishing routes.