How To Show Your Character’s Backstory [Character Development]

This month we’ve talked a lot about what shapes a character and what makes our characters great characters who stand out. We’ve talked about different ways to develop our characters in many different ways.

One great way to develop our characters is to shy away from the main story. Not too much of course, but getting to know your characters on a deeper level, especially for your readers, is a surefire way to develop your characters.

Why Is Your Character’s Backstory Important?

We all have a backstory and giving your character’s a backstory shows significant events that happened in the past before the main plot of your novel occurs. Some events and decisions that are made in the past have a connection to something that will happen in the present or future. There are a cause and effect for everything.

Knowing certain parts of your character’s backstory is important because it shows how your character came to be and allows some insight into who they are and where they came from for your readers. Plus, it helps you as the writer to get to know your own character a bit.

How Can You Show Your Character’s Backstory?

Add balance – Avoid info dumping

When showing your backstory, show bits and pieces of it at a time. You don’t want to overwhelm your readers with flashbacks and mini-stories that may or may not have anything to do with the main plot. Spread it out and only explain some backstory when it shows a character’s growth through the main story.

Show past events that shape your character

Why did they make a certain decision? Maybe something similar happened in their past and your character doesn’t want to make the same mistake. You can show what happened in the past or have your character explain what happened to other characters.

Make sure the backstory is relevant to the plot

Adding to the previous point, if you’re going to reveal some part of your character’s past, make sure it has something to do with the main plot. You don’t want to be explaining something completely out of left field. It will confuse your readers making them wonder why they need to know that, why it’s important. Only add relevant information.

Remember the backstory is not the main point of the story

Some people write prequels or even novellas based on certain characters. I’m good with those, go for it. However, if you’re writing the main novel make sure the backstory doesn’t overshadow the main plot. If a novella based on a certain character is planned, I don’t see why you can’t leave a slight cliffhanger in some backstory. Of course, again, don’t make it super prominent and don’t tease your readers with it making them forget about the main plot.

What other advice do you have for showing backstory? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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17 thoughts on “How To Show Your Character’s Backstory [Character Development]

  1. It’s amazing how often I come back to a first draft and see how much backstory I’ve written in, and how much of it just isn’t relevant to the story. I guess it’s a process that comes from getting to know your characters – writing up their history so you understand them better. It’s just important to find the unnecessary bits and weed them out afterwards!

    Good post. 🙂

    • Definitely. When it comes to a first draft you’re just telling yourself the story. You end up throwing in random tidbits. That’s what makes editing so difficult, lol.

  2. Sometimes imagining the characters back story for yourself can be as interesting as not writing it. One should try and avoid flashback although I am admittedly guilty of it, but at the same time even if you imagine your characters in alternative scenarios it can make it easier to imagine what their life must have been like prior to the events. I have written stuff where I have created a backstory that I now wish that I could change a little.

    • Flashbacks are a hit or miss for me. They have to be done very well in order to work. Though I do know what you mean about wishing to change something. I usually plan everything out way ahead of time, lol.

  3. I’m a writing a story where I’m slowly revealing my main character’s backstory and it makes sense to me because well it’s all coming from my head. But I’m wondering how it might appear to readers…irrelevant? confusing?

  4. Tortive again. My WordPress site, The Blackbirds Project, is a blog for my planning stage of my story, “Blackbirds”. (I usually HATE planning my stories, but this one is an exception.)

    One day, I’ll write Owl’s, Vulture’s, Raven’s, Heron’s, and Macaw’s backstories.

    What are your thoughts on a companion book that holds all my Word documents and Deviations (Deviantart term) I made while planning?

    • I think a companion book is great. If the novel (or series) is popular enough, people would love a companion book. There’s no harm in trying it out. Good luck!

Let me know your thoughts!

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