By Karis What is Backstory? Backstory is the personal history of the characters, as well as why they are in the situation that they are in at the start of the book. A backstory can be presented in the form of a flashback, dialogue, or a character’s thoughts. The backstory explains a character’s motives and why they interact with other characters. Forms of Backstory Flashback: A character ‘flashes back’ to the past, where they relive a scene from their life as though it was happening again. Dialogue: Stories or anecdotes from a character’s life come up in conversation. Thoughts: A character recalls an event in their life. Where to Incorporate It A lot of writers start with backstory at the beginning of their novel, but this tends to bog the reader down. It’s best to let the backstory develop naturally throughout the writing through one of the ways discussed before. At the beginning of a novel, the reader wants to know more about what is happening in the story rather than what happened in the past. Other Information Keep the backstory as short and simple as possible. It’s the reader’s job to figure out most of the story. The backstory given should tie into the events that are going on or that will occur. (In other words, it should be relevant to the novel, not necessarily the characters’ general lives.) If it is given through dialogue, make sure that it is appropriate. The character probably won’t confess the haunting secrets of their past to a total stranger, but to someone they trust, so use relationships to bring out the backstory. Activity 1 Think about the history of your main character. How does this background play a part in who the character is and what they do? Make a chart of important things that your character does. Ex: • Liliana’s dog died • She is sad and doesn’t go to the party, so she’s home when her house is robbed.
• She has an aunt that • She knows sign language and is able is deaf to converse with a mute girl that she meets
• She failed math in • She lacks confidence in herself, which third grade is something she has to overcome.
Activity 2 Try incorporating one or more of the different forms of backstory into your novel. Brainstorm! Is there a spot where your character is in a thoughtful mood? Maybe you could add a flashback or have them reflect on their past. Or is there a time when two characters, not necessarily major characters, where an important piece of history could be revealed? Be creative and figure out ways to tell the past of your novel without just flat- out telling it. Activity 3 It can be difficult to know where to add backstory into a novel since, as the writer, you already know the backstory. To try to get a better idea of what exactly your reader will want/ need to know, think of a favorite character from a book or movie. What is their personal history and how does it play a part in their motives throughout the story? For example, in the movie Rise of the Guardians, Jack Frost is who he is because he fell through the ice while he was saving his little sister from drowning. This makes him love children and having fun. How do movies and books give backstory, and how much do they give? Sources "Story Sensei." : How To Write Backstory Without Putting Your Reader To Sleep. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.