Guest Post: 5 Great Ways to Write an Interesting Backstory

This week’s guest post is from David Lazar. Learn about great ways to create an interesting backstory for a character, and consider submitting your own guest post!

5 Great Ways to Write an Interesting Backstory

If you are writing a long and complex piece of fiction, then a backstory will often be necessary. It can give necessary details about the pasts of various characters and it can also explain motivations and character traits of the main subjects in your story. The backstory can also provide insight that might be necessary to give your story different dimensions and increase the amount of intrigue you are presenting.

There is really only one thing that you shouldn’t do when writing a backstory, and that is putting it at the beginning of your story. Your reader will only find the backstory interesting and relevant if he or she first establishes a connection with your characters. Once the reader is invested in the character emotionally, then you will be able to present a backstory properly. Here are five tips for ways to go about including an entertaining and informative backstory in your writing.


Make a main character seek it out

This is an excellent method that will not only enable you to present the backstory logically, but also increase tension and intrigue while doing it. Make it so that one character must uncover the backstory of another character in order to move the story along. Making this discovery and research a difficult goal that one character must achieve will keep your reader invested in the search as well.

Don’t give the information away to easily, though. In order to keep the tension and excitement you need to present obstacles and conflicts that are creating roadblocks in your character’s quest to uncover the backstory.

Reveal it through flashbacks

Flashbacks can be effective if you keep them simple and use them sparsely. Overusing flashbacks can confuse your reader to a point in which the present and past events of the main characters begin to blur together. One way to create a successful flashback is to write it as an inner monologue in which the character is thinking back and remembering things that occurred in the past. Make it known that your character is remembering past events and then describe these events vividly, but also succinctly so that the flashback does not last too long. Make sure to keep the flashbacks brief and have your action return to the present quickly in order to avoid confusion.

You can also divulge the past through dialogues. Have your characters discuss past events in order to inform your readers of a vital backstory. In any case, be sure to make the flashbacks brief and to the point so that you don’t mess up the pace of your story and what is happening in the present.

Break it up

A good way to keep your readers turning the pages is to tease them with this important information little by little instead of giving it all to them at once. If you present the backstory in small increments and pieces you will motive the reader to continue reading in order to solve the mystery. Divide your backstory into several logical parts and then feed them to your reader gradually as clues that will in the end reveal something very important about the story.

Give a narrative summary of events

This is the most straight ahead method of divulging the backstory, but it is also the hardest to do correctly. If you are just going to give the backstory outright, you need to consider many other things beforehand. One of the most important things you must decide is when you want to give the backstory away within the chronology of your storytelling. Give it away too early and haven’t built up enough suspense or given the backstory enough weight. Give it away too late and you might have already bored the reader by not adding enough intrigue to the plot.

Whatever you do, make sure that it is short and effective. Figure out what the most essential details of your backstory are and be sure to cut the fat in order to keep it as exciting and short as possible. Include only the information that you feel the reader would be lost without.

Link it with action sequences

Try to find ways to hint at backstories during the most turbulent sequences of your story. A lot of writers think that the backstory should be presented during a lull in the action. However, hinting at a backstory in the most tumultuous moments of the story will not only make the reader more interested in uncovering the backstory, but you will also be grabbing the reader at a time at which they are most intensely focused on what they are reading.

Presenting the backstory along with a climactic part of the story will definitely increase the potency of the information you plan to uncover.

Keeping it short and having your backstory include only the information that is most vital to the continuation of the story cannot be stressed enough. As long as you trim the fat when presenting it, your backstory should end up being informative and intriguing no matter what method you use to develop and present it.

David Lazar is a blogger at CometDocs.com. With a background in journalism, he enjoys writing about and following a variety of topics, including careers, creative writing and new media. 


One comment

  1. David, thanks for the interesting post. One place that back-story is especially vital is in science fiction. I’m a long-time sci fi fan, but only started writing it a couple of years ago (for 2010 Nano), and the comments of my readers (“too much background all at once,” “you need to describe the scenery,” (alien planet) ) were incredibly helpful. I devoted far more of my Nano prep time into working on the planet, the society, and the aliens’ society than on the actual plot.

    Different sci fi authors dole out background information at different rates. Robert A. Heinlein is straightforward and lays it out at the start, some other authors not so much, and readers need to be prepared to be confused for a number of chapters as the background is revealed. It’s been a while since I read him, but as I remember, A. E. Van Vogt was far slower to dole out information than RAH.

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