How much Backstory Does Your Character Need?

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Hey everyone, Happy Sunday! The book is coming along splendidly, and I have been enjoying every minute of writing it. I am so glad that I decided to revise this story and make it my next novel. I only wish that I had started on it sooner but better late than never. This week I was thinking about my villain, and the fact that I really need to give more history on him and his brother. They have a volatile relationship and I haven’t explained why. I didn’t write a prologue for this story but maybe it needs one. But how much backstory should I tell and is it relevant to the plot?

The main characters of a story all have some kind of agenda, but we need more information than just what that agenda is. There’s got to be a method to someone’s madness so to speak and sometimes it’s good to tell what led up to that. There’s a lot of people who don’t like to read the Prologue of a book. I happen to be one of those people. But If it’s truly relevant to the story than I think it’s necessary. If a lot happened to the main character before they decided to go crazy or do a complete 180 in the middle of a story, I want to know what happened to drive them to do what they feel they need to do. But I have to admit that most of the time when I’m thumbing through a book at the Library, I skip the Prologue and go straight to the first chapter. I want to get right to the story and if I’m not impressed with the first action on the page, I usually put the book back on the shelf.

It’s a good idea to figure out how far back in time you want to go with the history of a character’s life. For example, if nothing relevant happened when they were a child than its common sense not to go back that far. It has to be relevant and give the reader some insight on what caused them to act the way they did throughout the story, perhaps something traumatic happened to them such as the death of a loved one, a heartbreak, an illness, etc.

I read that it’s not a good idea to use a lot of flashbacks in a novel, but I am a classic rule-breaker when it comes to writing. I will write as many flashbacks as I want if I feel that it’s going to give me enough backstory. But I try not to over-due it. People get irritated if they have to read too much about the goings-on in the past.

There are some things about a character that you may want to keep a secret so that you can create a slow build and reveal things gradually instead of all at once. That helps to move the story along much better and keeps the character from getting boring. People do change and you’ll want to show that change as it’s happening. If they are changing from a good person to a bad person then that can be quite chilling if it’s handled the right way.  Like the book The Shining by Stephen King. The story shows how writer, Jack Torrance slowly allows the Overlook Hotel to drive him completely mad due to the horrifying things that happened there in the past. I don’t want to give away any spoilers but it’s quite scary how Jack’s personality changes towards his family during the course of the story. But as we all know that oftentimes the seed was already planted within a person, and all they need is just a little nudge to push them over the edge.

It can be fun to give a character insecurities and habits, and past events that helped create whatever fears they may have towards a certain person. You need a reason that explains why they are afraid to do something that can change the outcome of a story in a big way. Sometimes we get so caught up in plotting that we forget to add little nuances of a character’s personality that help make that person interesting or make us want to root for them or despise them. They are considered one dimensional and don’t seem to change from the beginning of the story until the end. But they have to change. What purpose do they have for being in the story if they never change?

The first draft is always the worst version of the book but luckily when you write the second draft and the third, it gives you a chance to go back and add the backstory or those little quirks that help turn your characters into real people in the minds of your readers. It’s even better when we can totally forget that these characters are just figments of the author’s imagination. We want to be like them, look like them, experience their adventures, their relationships or their victories.

The backstory of your character is just as important as the present story in my opinion. Without it, our readers are lost trying to figure out what makes that character tick. It’s okay to leave a little mystery about a character but it’s also more intriguing to learn why they have the agenda that helps to tell the story in the first place. But leave a few details to yourself and maybe reveal them gradually or for a surprise ending.

Have a great week…

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