Recently, the importance of backstory crept up behind me and knocked me over the head. Backstory – the hidden part of the story, the part an observer doesn’t see at first glance, the story behind the story.
You know how first impressions are. You meet someone, and within minutes, you think you have a handle on them.
For the last three weeks, I’ve spent time with a new group of people. Much like a good story, I walked into a tense situation, the aftermath of someone being “let go.” As I spent time with the players in this real life story, they told pieces of their life stories (long term) and pieces of the story that led up to this moment (short term), until, at the end of week three, my understanding of all three of my three new acquaintances had evolved into something far different from my initial impressions.
Here are some of the elements of these character’s backstories that informed my opinions at the end of week three – family (childhood & current), job history, education, hometown/early environment, important past events, successes & failures, hobbies, values, beliefs, fears, and quirks.
What I discovered about writing backstory through real life is:
*Without backstory, I didn’t have enough information to understand the current story.
*Backstory is a way to connect and care about the characters in a story.
*Backstory, parsed out over time, is a trail of candy for the reader.
*You don’t need to tell it all. Backstory highlights are sufficient.
*In this case, my chatty “characters” told the backstory, but I will have my characters disclose this information in a more creative way.
*Backstory increases the conflict and tension in a story.
*Backstory provides motivation for conflict.