When you’re writing a novel, it’s important to create believable characters with a rich backstory. This helps readers connect with your characters and understand their motivations. But how do you go about creating a character backstory? In this article, we’ll explore some of the best creative writing techniques for fleshing out your characters’ pasts. We’ll also look at some common mistakes writers make when creating backstory. So whether you’re just starting out or you’re struggling to add depth to your characters, read on for tips on how to write a character backstory that comes alive on the page.
What Is Backstory and Why Is It Important for Characters?
When you’re designing characters for a story, it’s important to give them a well-developed backstory. It’s a critical part of character development.
A character’s backstory is the history and experiences that have shaped them. This includes their family history, upbringing, education, and any major life events that have influenced them. Backstory helps characters feel more real and believable and helps readers understand them better.
Backstory helps create a three-dimensional character instead of just a two-dimensional one. A backstory can explain why your character behaves the way he does, what his motivations are, and why he does things in certain situations.
In addition, backstory can be used to enrich and deepen the story itself. For example, when a character is faced with a difficult situation, the reader can better understand and sympathize with them if they know what they’ve been through in the past.
All in all, developing a detailed and believable backstory for your characters is an essential part of an exciting and compelling story.
The Difference Between Background and Backstory (and Why It Matters)
The backstory is essential for a compelling story.
When creating a backstory for a character, it’s important as the writer to understand the difference between background and backstory.
Background refers to the basic facts about a character’s life, such as where they grew up, their education, and their family. This information helps establish a foundation for the character, but it alone isn’t enough to bring them to life on the page.
Backstory, on the other hand, is the history that shapes a character’s personality and determines her actions in the present. This can include major life events, such as the death of a loved one or a traumatic experience. It can also be smaller details, such as a long-standing grudge against a rival or a secret fear of heights.
Knowing the difference between background and backstory can help you ensure that your characters are fully fleshed out and three-dimensional.
- Your character’s background refers to the facts of her life – where she was born, what her parents do, how she was educated, etc. This information is useful for understanding who your character is, but it doesn’t necessarily affect the story you want to tell.
- The backstory, on the other hand, is the history that shapes your character. It includes the events and experiences that led her to where she’s today, both mentally and emotionally. The backstory helps explain why your character reacts the way she does to the challenges in your story.
Think of it this way: backstory is what happened to your character, while backstory is what happened inside your character. Both are important to understanding who your character is, but only the backstory helps you write a rich and compelling story.
Good Backstory Serves the Main Story
A well-written backstory can give readers a better understanding of a character’s motivations, fears, and desires. It can also help establish a character’s unique voice and personality.
However, it’s important to remember that a backstory should always serve the story.
In other words, it should contribute to the overall plot and not detract from it. When used well, a backstory can help readers identify with the characters in a story.
However, if used poorly, it can quickly become boring and delay the narrative. Therefore, it’s important to be strategic when writing a character’s backstory. Include only information that’s necessary for understanding the story and build it organically into the narrative.
You can use backstory as an opportunity for exposition (e.g., when your character tells someone else something about his or her life) or even as a way for readers or viewers to get inside a character’s head (e.g., when you write from your main character’s perspective).
Seek What Is Interesting
However you use it, make sure that what you write not only serves your main plot but also contributes something valuable and interesting- even if only that it’s entertaining- about that person and their motivations for their actions.
There are several ways to build a better backstory and ensure your characters are more effective:
- First, consider what information is important to the audience. Too much information can be overwhelming, and irrelevant details will only confuse.
- Second, think about how you can reveal this information in an interesting and engaging way. A well-written flashback can be a powerful way to reveal important details about a character’s past.
- Finally, make sure that your character’s backstory is connected to the overall plot of the story. A character’s history shouldn’t be told simply for the sake of exposition; it should contribute to the conflict and tension of the story.
By following these tips, you can ensure that your character’s backstory serves the story in the best possible way.
Use Backstory to Deepen Characterization
Every story is about characters and their conflicts, so strong characterization is essential to a good narrative. The backstory is one of the most powerful tools an author has to deepen characterization and make readers care about the people in his story.
If you use it correctly, backstory can help make your characters more vivid and sympathetic.
One way to use backstory to deepen characterization is to reveal important details about your character’s past that help readers understand her motivations and actions in the present.
For example, if your character is struggling with a traumatic experience from her past, you can use flashbacks or dreams to show what happened and how it affected her.
You can also use backstory to describe a character’s personality traits and values. For example, if your protagonist grew up in poverty, he/she may be driven by the need to achieve financial security.
Or if your character has always been treated as an outsider, he/she may be reserved and distrustful of others. By showing how your character’s past experiences have affected her personality in the present, you help readers understand the character more deeply.
How Do You Go About Developing Your Character’s Backstory?
So how do you go about developing your character’s backstory?
The best way to start is by brainstorming. Write down everything you know about your character, including their history, personality, goals, and fears. Once you have a good idea of who she’s, you can start filling in the details of her past.
- What brought her to the present?
- What’re the defining moments in her life?
- What’re her hopes and dreams for the future?
When writing your character’s backstory, keep in mind that not everything has to be directly related to the main plot of your story. Some of the most interesting and compelling backstories are even those that only hint at what’s to come.
Use Writing Prompts
One helpful approach is the “writing prompts” method. Simply put, you ask yourself a series of questions about your character’s past and use those questions to develop ideas for her backstory.
You can find many good suggestions on the Internet, or you can come up with your own.
Another common method is to start with the basics: Name, age, nationality, etc. Once you have these basic facts written down, you can start filling in your character’s story.
- What kind of childhood did she/he have?
- What education did she/he receive?
- What kind of career did she/he have?
- What major life events have made them who they’re today?
Providing your character with a full and detailed story won’t only make them more likable and believable, but you’ll also have a better foundation to build on as your story progresses.
How to Write Character Backstory Without Making the Story Feel
It can be difficult to weave backstory into the narrative without making the story feel backward. Here are a few tips on how to write a character’s backstory without interrupting the flow of the story:
- Introduce backstory gradually: don’t pour out all the information about a character’s backstory at once. Instead, sprinkle small bits of information into the story. This way, the character is developed gradually and their story feels more organic.
- Use flashbacks sparingly: Flashbacks can be a good way to give insight into a character’s motivation or history. However, they can also be distracting if used too frequently. Use flashbacks sparingly and make sure they always serve a purpose in the story.
- Make sure they’re important: The backstory should always be relevant to the current story. Otherwise, there’s a risk that it’ll seem like filler. If a certain part of the backstory doesn’t contribute to the story in any meaningful way, cut it out.
What Are Some Techniques for Bringing Your Character’s Backstory to Life in Your Writing?
Backstory can also be a challenge, as it must be seamlessly integrated into the story without slowing the pace or becoming too didactic. Here are some techniques you can use to bring your character’s backstory to life:
- One way to incorporate backstory is to include it in the narrative in the form of flashbacks or dreams. This can be an effective way to show how the past has shaped the present without interrupting the flow of the story.
- Another option is for one person to tell their story to another, either in conversation or in a more formal setting such as a therapy session. This can be an opportunity for two people to connect while learning important information about the past.
- Finally, you can also provide backstory information, either through a character’s thoughts or by having another character tell you what happened in the past. It’s not always easy to find the right words, but if done well, they can provide important information without interrupting the flow of the story.
Whatever technique you choose, remember that less is often more.
How to Use Flashbacks in Your Story
One way to tell your character’s backstory is to use flashbacks. A flashback is a scene from the past that’s inserted into the current story.
Flashbacks can be used to reveal information about the character’s history, motivations, and relationships. When used effectively, flashbacks can help the reader better understand the character and the story.
For example, if your character is struggling with a decision, you can use a flashback to show why she’s having such a hard time making that decision. You could also use a flashback to introduce a new character or to provide additional information about an existing character. However, make sure that your flashbacks move the plot forward, otherwise, they run the risk of seeming like filler.
Flashbacks can disrupt the flow of the story if they aren’t used judiciously. Here are some tips on how to use flashbacks effectively:
- Make sure the flashback is relevant to the current story. The information revealed in the flashback should be important to understanding the character’s motivation or actions in the current story.
- Make sure the flashback is clearly defined. The reader should know when they’re in a flashback and when they return to the present. This can be accomplished by using transitions, such as “Suddenly he was transported back to his childhood home.”
- Make sure the flashback is interesting. Just because something happened in the past doesn’t mean it’s interesting to read about. Choose scenes that are exciting, emotional, or otherwise compelling.
- Keep flashbacks relatively short. A few paragraphs or a page or two is usually enough.
Interesting Character Facts You Can Use As Backstory
It can be difficult to find interesting backstory facts. To help you get started, here are some ideas for interesting backstory facts for your character:
- Your character might be afraid of heights or claustrophobic.
- Your character could be a former athlete who’s quit because of an injury.
- Your character could’ve lost a loved one at a young age that still weighs heavily on them.
- Your character could’ve been born rich but lost everything due to a financial scandal.
These are just a few examples of interesting facts from the past that you can use to make your character more versatile and interesting.
Take some time to brainstorm different ideas for your characters’ backstories and see what sparks your creativity.
Need More Prompts?
Still stuck? Try these prompts:
- What’s your character’s favorite book, movie, or show ( TV )?
- What was her favorite childhood memory?
- Who was their first crush? (Bonus points if it’s someone they knew in real life)
- What’s their favorite food and why?
- Does your character have any hobbies/activities outside of work that they’re particularly good at, such as playing an instrument or making art?
- If so, what’re they known for by their friends and family in that area?
The Ins and Outs of Writing a Good Character Arc
It’s important for any author to know the basics of a good character arc. Because without a well-crafted arc, your characters will seem apartment and one-dimensional.
So what exactly is a character arc? In its simplest form, a character arc is a journey your character takes from beginning to end. This can be an emotional journey or even a spiritual journey.
A character arc takes place internally in your characters’ heads or hearts, not physically. It’s about what they learn and how they change based on their experiences. Character arcs are often used in stories to show development, which is often key to an overarching plot in your book or movie.
In The Hunger Games series, there are many characters who start out selfish and cut themselves off from others but develop into open-minded and empathetic people by the end of the story.
When writing character arcs, it’s important to think not only about how the characters change over the course of the story but also how their beliefs change from beginning to end, so you can develop a compelling backstory for them before you start writing their scenes!
- One of the most important aspects of creating a good character arc is that your character has a goal. Without a goal, your character has no reason to change or grow. Your goal can be something as simple as finding a lost item or something more complex like saving the world from an evil villain.
- Another important element of a good character arc is making sure your character has to overcome obstacles along the way. After all, if everything comes easy to your character, there’s no reason to change or grow.
These obstacles can come from the outside, such as an evil villain or a natural disaster, or they can be internal.
Incorporate Character Arc Into Backstory
A well-crafted character arc will make your readers fall in love with your main character and cheer her on as she overcomes insurmountable obstacles.
So how do you tie the character arc into the backstory?
The most important thing is that you start with a strong foundation. Your character’s backstory should include formative events that made her who she’s today. These events should be directly related to the story you’re telling.
For example, if your story is about a woman overcoming her fear of public speaking, an event from her childhood where she was ridiculed for her stutter would be perfect.
Once you’ve chosen a few key events, it’s time to think about how your character has changed as a result of those events.
- What lessons has she learned? How has she grown?
- What fears or doubts still linger?
Answering these questions will help you better understand your character and what motivates her. This understanding will help you as you flesh out the events in your story.
Build Better Characters in 5 Steps with This Method
- Start with a real person. If you know someone who’s unique and interesting and has a lot of personality, use them as inspiration for your character.
- Create a deep point of view. How do they see the world? What motivates them? What do they strive for in life? You can find out all these things by asking questions and listening carefully to their answers.
- Good dialogue comes from good practice. So try to write down some dialogue before you write them into your story! This way you can get into the habit of writing realistic dialog for your characters, which will make less work for you later when you’re revising to figure out how to improve something that doesn’t sound right because it’s not authentic enough yet!
- Create habits to make each scene more believable by making sure something is always happening, even if it doesn’t look like it at first glance. This way, everything will seem natural and flowing rather than clunky or awkward.
- Use backstory, both personal history, and family history, so that readers understand why certain motives are being acted upon now rather than later when talking about past events such as childhood memories or other things that relate specifically to each other even though they come from different perspectives.
What Are Some Common Mistakes Writers Make When Creating Character Backstory?
When authors write a character’s backstory, they sometimes make mistakes that can harm the development of their story.
One mistake is to make the backstory too complicated. The backstory should be simple, direct, and contain just enough information to give the reader a sense of who the character is and why she does what she does.
Another mistake is to give too much detail. The backstory should be interesting, but it shouldn’t overwhelm the reader or slow down the plot.
Finally, authors sometimes make the mistake of giving too much of the character’s backstory too soon. It’s important to time the revelation of information so that the reader stays interested and wants to learn more about the character.
By avoiding these common mistakes, you can build a strong foundation for your story and your characters with the perfect backstory!