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Knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Three Tips for Writing Phenomenal Backstory

Photo Credit: bkwritersblock.blogspot.com
We all know how crucial back story is in our novels, right? It's how we reveal the motivations of our characters; how we give the history of our worlds and their conflicts; how we establish a rapport to make the reader care about the character in the present. It's so important to do back story well and thoroughly without bashing your reader over the head with it. So, how do you do that effectively?

1) Unfold little by little. If your back story comes in huge blocks of narrative, something's wrong. Your back story should unfold little by little, as your story does. It may even be smart to map out all the important points of your back story and how you will reveal them, piece by piece. If you can make them correspond with the major points of your plot, they will be both powerful and memorable, but more on this below.

2) Make your back story accomplish more than one thing. The more things, the better. Don't give back story for the sake of back story. It should show why something is happening in the present plot, give the motivation for a character, perhaps foreshadow how something will turn out or what choice a character will make, or anything else that serves your story in some way.

For example, if you have a character going through something--let's say they have to make a major choice--and they went through something similar in the past, or something that would effect their choices in the present, reveal the past at the same time or just before you reveal what it will effect in the present. This will tie together past and present, and give a deep, complete picture of your character's motivations, and why those motivations exist.

3) Tie it into the theme of the story. Even if your MC once lost a sibling to a violent death, and that experience has shaped them, it still may not be enough to justify including the back story, unless it also ties into your theme. This is probably not as complicated as I'm making it sound. If the violent death of a loved one shapes your MC, by definition it will probably tie into your team. But, when you're planning your back story, it's a good question to ask yourself. Just to make sure.

As long as you can check off these three things, your back story will be strong, effective, and a boon to your story.

Want to see effective back story revelation in motion? I might suggest renting a few seasons of Lost, which is no longer on the air. Once Upon a Time and Revenge (both on ABC network on Sundays) also do this very effectively.

Did you hear that? I just gave you an excuse to watch TV! Call it research and if you buy seasons, write them off as a business expense at the end of the year. (Just keep your receipt.) :D Happy Wednesday!

Random Movie Quotes (RMQ)

Don't know what this is? Click here.

Photo Credit: movievillains.com
Yesterday's RMQ was: "Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings, and call off Christmas!" Such a funny line from such a funny villain! :D

This was said by the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. Alan Rickman played him phenomenally! If you haven't seen this film and want to see comic villainy at it's finest, go see it! :D

Amelia of The Authoress got this one! Great job, Amelia! Three points to you! :D

Today's RMQ is:

"I hate rude behavior in a man. I won't tolerate it."

One point for film, one point for character, one point for actor. Any guesses? Hint: this was actually a made for TV movie.


  1. I love your advice! It rings true, and backstory--especially when it's wonderfully portrayed--always makes for an interesting character.

    For the quote, I'm guessing... "Lonesome Dove"?

    1. Thanks so much! And yes! You're correct on the quote. It's from Lonesome Dove! Very good! :D Check back on the post linked to the "click here" under the RMQ heading. I'll update winners and points over the next couple of days. Thanks for stopping by! :D

  2. Haha, that picture made me laugh! Love it. I always have a tendency to dump backstory in the first couple of pages, and my revisions are all about spreading it out and making it more effective.

    1. Yeah I found the picture and just HAD to use it. I think we all do that with backstory sometimes. We're just so excited for the reader to know it that we kind of vomit it out all at once. Yeah, I've definitely been there. Just takes practice, like everything else! Thanks so much for stopping by, Meredith! :D

  3. Great ideas on backstory and great pic to go with it. I especially liked the one about tying it to the theme. Thanks.

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  5. You know I always forget that is Rickman playing the Sheriff..he looks so different. Great post again and great advice!

  6. I think reminders like this are always helpful. It's good to look back at your work with different things in mind--man, editing never ends. Like everyone else, I loved the picture you used. It made me laugh.