Do You Have a Backstory?
Updated: Oct 12, 2022
Originally Published June 20, 2012
One of my favorite parts of writing fiction is creating backstories for my characters. I love to get in their heads, find out what makes them tick and see what it makes them do.
Wait, I’ll back up. Some of you may be wondering what a backstory is.
Here’s a definition of “backstory” from Dictionary.com: “a narrative providing a history or background context, esp. for a character or situation in a literary work, film, or dramatic series.”
Each character needs a history that helps explain his or her actions. You may never even write about his or her history in the actual story. But you as the author need to know every main character’s history.
Example: In writing book 2 of The Realm Series, I am expanding the role of Prime Minister Vivi Sel Luan. I didn’t give her much of a personality in book one. As I was writing book 2 and putting her in various circumstances, I realized I didn’t know how she should respond. So I stopped writing the story and spent some time making up Vivi’s backstory. I had to create her history so I could understand why she wanted certain things and why she would act in certain ways. Now, when I put her in a situation, how she should respond becomes almost obvious! The character determines what happens and helps create the story!
When creating a backstory, you can start by thinking first of the end results you want in the character and working your way backwards. Or you can think of the history first and how that would shape him or her in the future. I usually end up doing a combination of the two until I’m happy with the way the character has turned out.
Want to explore more about writing backstories and other helpful tips for fiction writing? I’ve shamelessly swiped most of this post from one of my books: Fiction Writing Workbook. There’s exercises, prompts and more examples on this and other topics in there. I hope it helps you write the story rattling around in your heart!
“backstory.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 13 Nov. 2009. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/backstory>.