When creating a story, we’re encouraged to create a “backstory” for each of the main characters. This is what’s happened to the character before the story begins, and affects how that character behaves. But don’t confuse character “history” to “backstory.” Use only what backstory is necessary to the story now. Click to Tweet #amwriting #storyfixing
Yes, you’ve spent a lot of time filling in the blanks of your characterization study. Some of the points may be really interesting, or you like it all and want to write a biography of your character to include in the story. Don’t give into that temptation.
Backstory isn’t history. If you’ve written a detailed character history before writing your story, don’t use it. If you haven’t written one, don’t. Plotters may not like this, but the temptation to use too much of the character’s backstory in your real story is high. Readers are interested in the story they’re currently reading, not what happened before, unless something that happened before is crucial to understanding the story now.
Think of backstory as seasoning to your steak, but not the steak itself. Cut the history that isn’t contributing to the story. Determine what’s essential and what’s not. Bring in pertinent details in an unobtrusive way. Don’t use long narratives to share the past.
Fine–Tuning Your Manuscript
- Discern the vital details of a character that the reader must know from the backstory.
- Search your manuscript. Where have you included too much history? Where have you not included enough?
- Show characters discovering information, rather than simply detailing the information in the scene.
- What aspects of backstory are nonessential? How is the true character emerging through all this?
Getting to know your characters through writing the story itself may actually be more helpful than writing out a complete character biography. Click to Tweet But if you do write the biography, it can be helpful in sharpening your discernment as to what’s important and what’s not. #amwriting #storyfixing