The backstory – what is it and why you should have one

Of course, the first step to self-publishing is writing your story. The first step to your story, some would argue the plot, some would argue the backstory.

Last week we looked at the opening line of your story – the hook, but what happens before that opening line?

Whether your opening line is a rainy Monday in Cape Town or a chase across the plains of the Kalahari or even in the midst of a fierce battle on the planet Zarg, everything that has happened before your opening line is your backstory.

Things to consider

If you’re thinking (as I did when I first learned of this many years ago) why bother writing down what happened before my story? I’m not going to use it in my story, here are some things to consider:

  1. Knowing how your character grew up or how your world got to the state it is in now will help you in your writing of your current story. Each character’s motivation and the reason for doing what they are doing will be obvious to you as the author if you know their back story.
  2. You can introduce important aspects of the backstory as you go through your story to help the reader understand. For example, if, at the beginning of your story, we find out your character hates cheese but we don’t know why and then halfway through your story, your character confesses that his older sibling pinned him down and thrust cheddar up both nostrils, we understand why your character hates cheese
  3. The backstory helps the reader to understand your character’s motivation, why they do what they da.
  4. The backstory will give your characters consistency and not act in an unpredictable way. If one moment your character hates cheese and then we find out they’re eating a fondu, this would be an inconsistency.
  5. Through the backstory, we can find our your main character’s fears. If he/she has to go and rescue the president from a cheese dungeon inside a cheese castle, then we know this will be a challenge to overcome their fear. Which is what most stories are about – overcoming challenges.

Bring your back story into your writing subtly over time. Don’t write paragraphs on your back story, it’s not an interesting read.

If you would like any more advise on your story, or your manuscript, contact us here.