Backstory is important. Your character may not have been created until the story began, but without backstory, that character will lack motivations for her actions and reactions. They will be flat.
When you read a book, you get hooked in pretty quick. The author has two big ways of doing it. They will either use a great character or action. This is the old argument of story verses plot.
Story, as I define it is character growth. This is a hard way, in my opinion to try to hook a reader. It takes a long time. Plot on the other hand is easier and gives you a chance to put your character under pressure and start his story.
I am not sporting a MFA, so none of this is expert advice. This is from my experience as a reader. Many times, I struggle to get into a book. If the book has not given me something within the first 30 pages (10k words) I move on.
How can back story help? Backstory is what drops your character into the setting. Why was Harry living with his relatives? What happened to his parents? Why does Snape treat him so? Do not for one minute think that authors with complex characters don’t have a back story for each one.
You have created an amazing person and she is going to do awesome things. Sometimes several other characters will to die to get them there. Something seems off. How do you fix it? Backstory!
You do not always include the back story in the full story. I can almost guarantee that writing out a bit of the why, when, and how will help a scene that is just not working. It can solidify the mood and motivation in your head.
You can just write a few lines of notes, or a narrative. Aim for 500-1000 words for each mini story. If you use Scrivener, you can make a timeline folder to keep notes or mini stories available. I make changes to my characters’ backstory pretty often. My husband will ask, “Is this canon?” What he means is, “Did you change it in the back story file?”
Finally, even villains need a back story. Why are they out to get power or your main character? It’s there, in the back story.
Try these prompts to get you started.
1. What was your character doing 5,10,15 years before the story started?
2. What did she want to be when she was a child? How did that work out?
3. What is his normal day like? What does he do in his free time.
4. How did she meet her boyfriend? If she doesn’t have one tell me about her current crush or how she rejects suitors.
5. Your character walks into a bar…
6. Your character has skills, how did they get them?
7. How did your hero/villain become a hero/villain?
8. Why do your heroes hate the villain so much? What happened?
9. How did your character end up with their name? (Even your parents have a reason why they picked your name. It is a story you learned as a child and you have internalized it.)
10. Does you character have a special item they carry with them? Why is it special? How did they come by this item?
Usually, I come up with these questions as I begin to revise. They add depth to some of the strange situations we put them in. Please add more questions or share some of your answers in the comments. Thanks so much for reading! I am truly honored. 💕