B is for Back Story

Cover of "Ship of Dreams (Leisure Histori...

Cover via Amazon

by Lillian Csernica on April 2, 2013

B is f or Back Story

The back story is everything that has happened to your main character leading up to the story you want to tell. Many writers believe that the more you know about your main character’s back story, the better you’ll be able to show him or her on the page. Spend all that time figuring out all those dozens of little details and you’ll come up with the one or two that make all the difference in the story.

Not necessary.

All you really need to know about your main character’s past is what affects him or her in the context of the story you’re telling right now.

In my historical romance novel SHIP OF DREAMS, all I had to know about my hero Alexandre de Marchant was that he blamed himself for the destruction of the French naval vessel he served aboard because he didn’t kill their incompetent commander when he had the chance. If he’d done so, the much more qualified officers would have defeated their English adversaries and Alexandre’s shipmates would still be alive. His guilt and the pathological hatred of all English sailors that arose from it made writing his actions and reactions much easier.

Speed counts for a lot in today’s marketplace. Yes, you need those telling details to bring your story to life, but if you get bogged down in those details and don’t finish your story, it may never get the chance to live.


Filed under fantasy, Fiction, Writing

9 responses to “B is for Back Story

  1. scarlettsands

    Hey hey, I nominated you for a liebster award, because you are literally and figuratively AWESOME!


  2. This is some great advice. The backstory can sometimes be shared as the story goes along if it is prominent as you describe.


    • Thank you! Yes, it’s very important to dramatize exposition as much as possible. If you can advance plot, character, and back story all at once, you’ve pulled off the literary hat trick!


  3. Thank you! I’m fairly new to fiction, working on a 3k word story and trying to decide how much to reveal or even decide up re the background. This is really helpful . 🙂 x


  4. You’re welcome! I’m so glad you found useful info here.


  5. KC

    I flip-flop on backstory. Sometimes I create a lot of it for a character and other times hardly any. I think it just depends on writing styles and story needs. But I think you’re right, you don’t have to know every detail for every character all the time.

    KC @ The Occasional Adventures of a Hermit & Oh Frog It


    • I hear what you’re saying. There have been times when I’ve done more back story on a character in a short story than I have for somebody in one of my novels. I think the more complex the plot, the better you need to know your people.


  6. Pingback: E is for Expository Lump | Hopes and Dreams: My Writing and My Sons

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