BACKSTORY: PURPOSES & PROBLEMS
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:
- To reveal important information about the main characters
- To depict a story world
- To give depth to characters and understand who they are, why they think or act in certain ways
- To supports the character’s motivation
- To reveals the character’s fears
- To explain the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist
Problems with Backstory:
- 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.
- Too little backstory can make a story appear to thin, with no “meat” to the characters.
- Too much backstory can bog a story’s progress down.
- Giving the reader more backstory than they need to know and confusing them.
Ways to Reveal Backstory:
- Flashbacks: Interjecting a scene from the past by using inner dialogue.
- Dialogue: Using a conversation, especially an argument, to reveal backstory and conflict.
- Narration: The author using an omniscient point of view to reveal backstory; best used in plays.
- Recollection: Using a character’s memory of something, introspection, to reveal backstory.
- Inner Dialogue: Providing backstory in a character’s thoughts.
Tips for Using Backstory:
- Insert backstory in small pieces that don’t slow the forward movement down.
- 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.
- Avoid using author narration as it takes the reader away from the story.
- Keep flashbacks to a minimum and use only to reveal a specific character or event that is necessary for the reader to know.
- Reveal tidbits of background throughout the story’s action.
- Reveal details to evoke specific images and feelings that the reader needs to “see” at that time.