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What’s your backstory?

Diana here:

Everyone has one and so should your characters. That’s where backstory comes in; it’s the glue that holds your character frozen in a scary moment, or the reason your hero jumps out in traffic to save someone.

What backstory is—everything that came before the day your character appears on the page.

What it isn’t—everything that came before the day your character appears on the page.

I know, I wrote the same thing for both definitions, but hear me out.

You know that person you love or like, but has stories to tell? Not the person that does a great job and keeps you entertained. Nope, I’m thinking of the relative who starts at the beginning—the very start of a story. Like this: As soon as the alarm went off I knew I had to get out of bed. I had so many things to do (insert list of things with times of the day it needs to be done) and I was supposed to meet my friend at lunch. Then when I  opened the front door there was this dog. It was sitting on my porch. The story goes on for what seems like an eternity. Eventually, the end comes.

I was afraid to leave because I got bit by a dog once and I didn’t want that to happen again.

Wait! Bit by a dog? When did that happen? How bad was it? What kind of dog? Now, you’re interested. And that would have a place in the story, everything that happened before the person stepped on the porch is just filler.

When you add backstory, it has to make sense with the book you are writing. It has to answer a ‘why’ your character behaves in a certain way.

So, you know your why, but where do you insert it into the story?
       A.      In the first scene?
       B.       The entire first chapter?
       C.       Sprinkled throughout the book?

The answer is C. Let your character tell someone why they are afraid of the dog when they come across a dog or discuss getting a pet. You want the reader to experience the emotions of the why, the reasons for their anger, fear, stubbornness at the moment it makes sense. If you front load the backstory, the reader may get bored, because there isn’t a real connection with the character yet. If you tell the reader the details too soon, you also lose the impact of what that emotion feels like to the character. They may keep reading, but you’ve missed the chance to involve them deeper into your work. 

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