Does Your Story Have a Backstory?

Why Every Story Must Have a Backstory

Earlier this week, I discussed flashbacks and whether they should be used. I mentioned that they can be tricky, but if used correctly that can be helpful. The difficult part knowing when to include a flashback and when it will be effective rather than intrusive.

Typically, if the story can be told without a flashback, its best to avoid them.

But what about backstory? What is the difference?

A flashback completely interrupts the present story to go back in time and dramatize a previous event.

Backstory is part of every story. It’s is everything that has happened in your story before the story began. Since your characters didn’t drop into your book without any history, we as readers assume they had a back story.

Photo by Tommy van Kessel 🤙 on Unsplash

Star Wars is a perfect example. The 1977 movie — the first one ever released, began with young Luke Skywalker living with his aunt and uncle (Why? Where were his parents?) who is thrust into an adventure to deliver a message to Obi-Wan Kenobi. The message is from Princess Leia who has been captured by Darth Vader’s forces.

We do not immediately know any of their backstory. The audience watches the plot unfold and enjoys the story.

But slowly, we come to find out why Luke was living with his aunt and uncle. We find out who Leia really is (I don’t think I’m creating any spoilers by saying she was his sister, if so, I’m sorry). We find out who Darth Vader was and how he became the evil, dark power that he was.

Each one of these characters had a backstory, a history that was important because it helps us to understand their motivations.

But the details about their past was fed to us slowly. In fact, some of the history came years later when the prequels were filmed and released.

Every character has a past, but the reader does not need to know every detail of their past. In fact, in some books, we never know the full backstory of the characters. We might get glimpses of what their…