Six Reasons Your Characters Need A Back Story

Share this

We all love a well-written character, don’t we? For me, there’s nothing worse than a story with a great plot that never pulls me in because I can’t relate to or sympathize with the characters. I can’t count the number of times I put a book down because the two-dimensional characters weren’t believable enough to me. If I don’t care about what happens to anyone in a story, that story won’t keep me until the end and worse, I won’t recommend it to anyone else. If the former is not true of most of your audience, the latter certainly is.

So how do you avoid the trap of flat characters who fail to draw a reader’s interest? The most crucial thing you can do happens before you write your story: Write your main characters’ backstories. A backstory is another way of saying your character’s history or background. The level of detail is up to you but as a general rule, the more important a character, the more involved his or her backstory should be.

You don’t have to include all of the backstory in your main story but it does provide a wealth of resources to draw on. Bits and pieces of it can be revealed in flashbacks or dialogue, enough to pique the reader’s curiosity to learn the entire story. Read on for the six major reasons you need to write a backstory before you can write your main characters’ stories.

Help readers make a connection with your character.

Plot is important. Setting is important. None of it matters without characters that matter. In Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card famously wrote, “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.”

It is the same way for your readers. They don’t have to like your characters. No one liked Darth Vader, but everybody wanted to know how he turned from good to evil.

Your readers may not empathize with your character, but they have to understand him.

Give your characters motivation.

If you’ve ever watched Game of Thrones or read A Song of Ice And Fire, the series of books the show is based on, you know that a character doesn’t have to be loved to be intriguing. Queen Cersei is a masterful character who has suffered more pain than most of us can imagine and inflicted even more on her enemies. Still, you can almost feel sorry for her when you realize she’s battling her own demons, not all of her own making. I said “almost”.

Shed light on what has shaped character’s personality, history, relationships.

Write out events that played a significant role in how your character came to be the person he or she is today. A lost love? A betrayal? A mentor who inspired? Anything that impacted, changed or even solidified that person’s worldview should be included.

Add richness to the story.

Stories are about people and people are not always rational to others but they are usually quite rational to themselves. This is where a person’s history and background come into play. To a reader, it might seem illogical that someone who suffered through war as a child would become a mercenary but what if that was that character’s way of moving from feeling powerless to feeling in control of her own destiny?

Slip pieces of your backstory into your main story.

As I mentioned earlier, slipping some of your backstory into your main story makes for a logically cohesive tale. It also provides a lot of material you’ve already written so you don’t have to stop the flow of your story to add emotional impact. You, the writer, already know why someone is determined to bring another character to justice. Now you’ve got to let the reader in on it, piece by piece.

Make your characters multidimensional.

I love superhero movies, both Marvel and DC but one thing Marvel does better is characterization. The heroes are imperfect and complex, the villains are somewhat sympathetic. Make sure your characters aren’t simply acting according to type. Give them a compelling reason for everything they do.

Do you write backstory for your characters? If so, what do you think it brings to your story? Let me know in the comments and thanks for reading!

Share this

29 thoughts on “Six Reasons Your Characters Need A Back Story”

  1. This is on point! Now I know why it is necessary to have a backstory. I’m not a writer but I often read books and watch movies.

  2. Interesting blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?

    A theme like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make
    my blog shine. Please let me know where you got your theme.
    Bless you

  3. Hi! Someone in my Facebook group shared this site with us so I came to check it out.
    I’m definitely loving it. I’m book-marking
    and will be tweeting this to my followers!
    Superb blog and great style and design.

  4. Thanks for the marvelous posting! I quite enjoyed reading it,
    you will be a great author.I will always bookmark your blog and will come back later on. I want to encourage you continue your great
    work, have a nice weekend!

  5. Greetings from Los angeles! I’m bored to death at work so I decided to browse your blog on my iphone during lunch break. I really like it and can’t wait to take a look when I get home. I’m surprised at how fast your blog loaded on my mobile .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyways, good site!

  6. Brianna Hollenbeck

    Good web site you’ve got here. It’s hard to find good quality writing like yours these days. I truly appreciate people like you! Take care!!

  7. Hi there, I found your site via Google whilst searching for
    a related matter, your web site came up, it seems to be great.

  8. Hey! Someone shared this website with me so
    I came to look it over. I’m definitely loving the stories. I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my followers!
    Fantastic blog and great design and style.

  9. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d certainly donate to this superb blog!
    I suppose for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS
    feed to my Google account. I look forward to fresh updates and will share this site with my Facebook group.
    Chat soon!

  10. You should be a part of a contest for one of the greatest sites on the net.
    I am going to highly recommend this web site!

  11. Your style is very unique in comparison to other people I’ve read stuff from.
    Thanks for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this site.

  12. Elba Castiglia

    After checking out a number of the articles on your web site, I really like your way of writing a blog.

    I book marked it to my bookmark website list and will be checking
    back soon.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *