Background and Backstory

Today, I’m going to get into the main post pretty quickly.
But first, let me give you some background on myself;

My favorite music is pop punk/alt rock.
My favorite cereal is cornflakes and those flash frozen strawberries.
My favorite soda is cherry Pepsi.

I am American, I was born in Texas, and I’m sixteen years old going on seventeen. My eyes are hazel, and I’ve finally settled on that after being told by numerous people that my eyes are BOTH green and brown, separately.
I like to write, obviously. I like to sing. I like to cook.
In school, I liked history and English. I am going to study computer science and technology in college.
I like to keep my hair long.
I prefer women with Scottish accents rather then the mainstream English accents. (Though both are extremely beautiful, like seriously.)

That was a little background on me. All these facts are true, due to them being facts of course, and that leads into today’s main topic;

Background and backstory in writing. Both important elements, both entirely different, but both give some much needed information for character development, growth, and just… a way for the reader to get to know and grow attached to said character. Without these two tools in our toolbox, our characters would be sad one-shot pieces with nothing to build on.

Before I go into detail on each one, let me give you the broad definitions that I was raised writing with;

Backstory – The tale of your main character before the events of the book. Told through flashbacks, prologues, or conversation. Shows a timeline within the book, and gives a character a more 3D appearance.

Background – Basically just extra info on a character. Told through conversation, or just basic story-telling and day to day events. Can also be a tool kept to the author. Helps broaden the character more, making it nearly fully 3D, because now he has likes, dislikes, favorites, and real world things that help the author get more personal with his character.

Now, our feature presentation.
Let us start with background.

As I said in the shortened definition there, background is really just extra info. It broadens your character to a real world equivalent. Let’s take my character from my new book, Aubrey Kasey, as an example.
We want to leave out any real story elements, or anything that would usually add to the plot in a significant manner.

  • So here. Aubrey Kasey.
  • Well, Aubrey Kasey is an insomniac.
  • He is on a few prescription drugs, and a few not so prescription.
  • His favorite cereal is Lucky Charms.
  • He likes black coffee.
  • While an introvert in of himself, he likes extroverted women because they help him live more then he typically would.
  • He is a writer.
  • He has had three books rejected in twenty years, each around twelve times each.
  • He never smokes.
  • His preferred alcoholic beverage of choice is a banana daiquiri. (Though around women, he gets a gin and tonic.)
  • Aubrey Kasey’s middle name is Bartholomew.

There you have it. Some tid-bits of information about my character. As I’ve probably said twice before, this really helps bring the character into the real world. Aubrey may never once get a banana daiquiri in the book, but know that he loves ’em! You, the reader, may never know his favorite cereal, or his choice in women, but I, the author and creator of Aubrey Kasey, do. And it helps me develop a much more realistic, moving character that you can relate too, by having this information laid out in front of me. I can really get up close and personal, and learn things about my character until he’s practically my best friend. (Or he’s so despicable I wouldn’t let him pet my dog.)
Usually, I keep this as an author’s tool unless one of the traits or favorites has a plot point in the book. Otherwise, I have a list on my desk next to me of all this stuff about my character while I’m writing, and it’s all good.

Next, let’s talk about backstory.

Backstory is the events that happened to your character before the events of the actual book. Backstory can be as short as what the character did the day before, or his life story from birth ’till then. The length of a backstory should really depend on what type of story it is, and what the character is like. You have to think about whether or not it will add something to the story, explain something that the readers will read later, or let us see a bit closer into the character. I have read some stories where the author creates this elaborate backstory full of twists and turns, and then it has nothing to do with the rest of story, it is never mentioned again, and it really didn’t have an impact.

Don’t do this. For me, an excessive backstory/prologue is an absolute story killer. Either have one and have it matter, or don’t have one at all. Sometimes enigmatic characters are cool anyways.

Another way you can go about it is like the background; keep it to yourself. I’ve written a few short-stories where the title character himself hardly has any info, no name, no story, sometimes no motive! (Don’t do the last one… most of the time, it’s a mistake)
But still, I write a backstory. Whether it is a paragraph or two pages, I make myself know the character, even if the readers won’t.

I am a firm believer that if anyone should know the main character, it should be the author. After all, how can you write for someone you don’t know? Learn the character, know the character, make them your friend.
THAT will help.

Real quick, I want to talk about the difference between prologue and backstory. Every prologue has a backstory, but not all backstories are prologues.
A prologue is at the beginning of the story. We’re talking about books here, because obviously movies can do it differently. (Star Wars, anyone?)
I prefer prologues. I prefer to introduce my readers to a character back then, and now, so that they can see the difference, development or growth in the character.

A regular backstory has to be developed through the story, through dialogue and narration. While it can work quite well, giving bits of the character’s story throughout the novel, I simply prefer the prologue method, because it seems plainer and easier to do. There is no gray area, there is no question what the character means, you have two black and white sections; then and now.
And that seems to work best, at least for me.

Now not everyone needs a backstory… or background. But I recommend both, especially if you are a fledgling writer. Even if you just keep it to yourself, they are yet another couple tools to help your story.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

– Brandon, 9:47 PM



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