Backstory and When It Becomes A Problem
Let’s go back in time and look at backstory and what it is, how it can improve your story and how it can damage your tale. Before we go any further we need a definition and we’ll use the same one Write Divas uses – Wikipedia!
A backstory, background story, back-story or background is a set of events invented for a plot, presented as preceding—and leading up to that plot. It is a literary device of a narrative history all chronologically earlier than the narrative of primary interest.
Now we are all agreed on that let’s look how it can be used to improve your story.
How to Create Backstory
The aim of backstory is to give your story a solid foundation. Write Divas have kindly produced a list a five step process for creating your backstory. The steps, which are based on Wikihow’s steps are:
- Start from the very beginning – childhoods
- Compare what you’ve come up with to your character’s personality
- Write the plot for the story
- Reread the backstory
- Now that you’ve made the backstory, get another opinion
When Backstory Becomes A Problem
In the introduction to her article How to Tell If Back Story is Sabotaging Your Novel on Jane Friedman‘s website, Roz Morris says there are two fundamental questions when it comes to back story. They are:
The first is how to present it (e.g., a vivid flashback), and the second is whether those back story events should be used as part of the main plot.
Roz then goes on to list the four ways you can tell if your story is suffering from too much backstory. They are:
- Your novel’s most engaging events are buried in a summary of back story
- Your novel relies on backstory and secret wounds instead of character development
- Dramatic issues and secret wounds are never used in the novel
- The back story appears in one major chunk at the beginning
As you’d expect Roz explains each of her points in How to Tell If Back Story is Sabotaging Your Novel and also touches on other aspects of backstory as well so well worth a read. If you like Roz‘s suggestions then check out her book Writing Plots with Drama, Depth and Heart: Nail Your Novel.
How much Back Story do you use in your stories? How do you tell when you are using too much?