The Value of Backstory

by | Mar 29, 2021 | Fiction, Imagine, Writing

What if there was a way you could innately understand how your character would react in every situation and show your reader than tell them? A conversation I had with a neighbour about this inspired this post because that’s what backstory does. It allows you to get to know each of your characters intimately; their:

  • Background
  • Childhood
  • Schooling
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Personality
  • Character traits
  • Flaws
  • Physical appearance

It’s everything that makes them who they are and drives their words and actions. The backstory rarely makes it into your actual story, although you can sprinkle a few bits in here and there. It makes writing your characters and their interactions so much richer, juicier, and more realistic and relatable.

The How and When of Backstory

Think of backstory as if you were describing your character in depth to a friend. How you do that doesn’t need to be complex. It can be as simple as bullet points you can refer to when you’re writing, or as complex as a 1-2 page biography.

There’s also no right or wrong time to create a backstory. That’s the beauty of a writing process; there’re essential elements that go into writing a story, but the order you do them depends on personal preference.

I write short stories for some of my university assignments and like to do mine before I start. I find I get better results because I have more clarity. My neighbour likes to jot down a few key points to start, write some of the book, then come back to flesh out the backstories. It’s your choice.

When you reach a stuck point in your story, remind yourself of your character’s history, traits and background and ask “If I were (your character’s name), what would I do?” Sometimes it can help to imagine how that scenario has played out in real life, and the role your character would’ve played. The backstory also helps the reader to see how your character has grown, especially if you’re writing a series. If you’d like more help to create your backstory, check out the How to Write Compelling Character Backstories: Step-by-Step Guide masterclass (scroll down to get to the article).

Do you create a backstory for your characters? If so, share your process in the comments below. If you don’t, I’d love to know what you do instead.

Cheers to your writing success!

Leonie