Writing Backstory

According to many that teach the craft of writing fiction, the backstory consists of events, sometimes traumatic, that have happened to your character(s) before the opening of the story. In novel construction, back story often holds the key to character motivation. It isn’t necessary that the reader know it, but it’s essential that the author does, and limits questions for backstory to emotionally important or memorable highlights.

  • What significant something happened in the first seven years of your character’s life that most influenced his/her future?
  • Did physical appearance influence his/her vulnerability?
  • Did mother/father get along? If there was friction, what was the cause and how did it influence your character’s later years?
  • What one incident in school is he/she unable to forget? Favorite teacher? Why?
  • Who did he/she think of as an enemy? Why? How did it affect them? Influence them?
  • What was your character’s most embarrassing moment? How did it affect them? Influence them?
  • Was he/she ever betrayed by a friend? How did it affect them? Influence them?
  • What occupation was the first to intrigue your character?
  • Does he/she ever recollect first love experience? How did it affect them? Influence them?

Interesting characters are what intrigue and hold the reader’s attention. Writers acheive this by creating character charts, or character sketches. This is a technique for character development which has information that is both demographic (age, sex, income) and psychographic (tastes, habits, etc.), as well as a brief list of observed character traits—hairdo, eyes, jewelry, clothing—that stimulates a writer’s creative guesswork about what motivates characters.

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