how to write a backstory

How to Write a Backstory And Why You Should

Backstories are important. Whether it’s a screenplay, a novel, or a comic book, you have to know the character’s story no matter what you’re writing. It’s not just their history in terms of what happened to them. It’s also the context and reasoning behind what they do. If you want to know how to write a backstory that captivates your audience, here’s how you can do it.

13 steps of writing a backstory

Backstories are a great start to writing your book. Without a solid understanding of how your character came to be, you won’t be able to write their actions and reactions in a way that makes sense for their personality because you don’t know who they are. Here are 12 steps of how to write a backstory.

1. Determine the purpose of the backstory

The first step in creating a backstory is to ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish. Are you making an origin story for a character? Do you want to write a history of a world? Are you filling in details about the past for the reader? Asking yourself why you need to know these things will help you determine how much information to include, how much detail to go into, and what questions are most important to answer.

Furthermore, it is essential to keep your audience in mind to develop your backstory when learning how to write a backstory. If the backstory is for your benefit, write for yourself. If it is for plot development, focus on the most relevant information.

Lastly, if it is for readers curious about the world and characters, give them the details they want. Write down precisely what you want to accomplish with this backstory before beginning so that you have clear goals in mind throughout the process.

2. Outline ideas

Outlining is the best way to stay organized, especially if your story is long. If you’re writing a book or novel, you might want to write a more detailed outline that lists each chapter in order. For shorter stories, you can jot down the significant events that will happen in chronological order. Having an overview will help you figure out what should go into your story and what order.

Think about the main character and their motivation for doing the things they do throughout the story when planning how to write a backstory. What makes them do those things? What are their goals and desires? How do their past experiences shape who they are now?

Make a list of all of these traits and any other details about the character that comes to mind. Once you have a clear idea of who this character is and what they’re like, you’ll be able to consider how they would act in certain situations and make decisions that fit with their personality or backstory.

3. Pick a personality trait

Every character has a personality. Some are reckless, some are serious, and others are somewhere between. But one thing that is true of all people is that they have a personality. Personality affects how characters react to situations, speak to others, and think about things. You can use it to add depth and realism to your characters. It can also help you come up with a backstory for your character.

For example, if your character is quiet and reserved, perhaps they were teased as a child because of it and have decided not to talk very much to avoid being bullied further. It might make them seem cold or rude when they are introverted and shy.

This alone isn’t enough to create an interesting backstory, but it’s a great start on how to write a backstory! By picking a personality trait for your character, you can build from there by looking at what might cause this trait to develop or what consequences could stem from it.

4. Choose a defining moment

People are defined by their choices, and those choices define their personalities. No one is better than anyone else for any particular reason, but people can be different in how their personalities are formed. You can tell a lot about a person’s character by looking at their choices.

A defining moment is just that. It’s the part of how to write a backstory where someone has a choice to make, choosing one path over another. This choice could be life-altering, like taking their mother off of life support or deciding to go to rehab. Or it could be something seemingly small, like choosing to befriend someone who’s being bullied or keeping her mouth shut after seeing her friend cheat on a test.

In any case, the choice is what defines them. People like to think of themselves as being a good people or not very nice, but the truth is that everyone has those moments where they have to choose between right and wrong, and those moments shape who we are. Choosing a defining moment will help you select your character’s path.

5. Select a strong emotion

Let’s say you have a character who is about to embark on a quest, and you want your readers to feel something for this character. How do you make them care? The answer is simple. If you can make your readers relate to your character’s emotional state, they will care what happens to them.

Select a strong emotion that your protagonist has experienced in their life when planning how to write a backstory. It could be fear, pain, sorrow, anger, happiness—any emotion will do. Then write a backstory about your protagonist that relates to that emotion.

For example, let’s say you have a male protagonist going into battle. In his past, he has experienced the death of someone close to him through violence. To make your reader relate, tell the story of how he lost this loved one. Don’t just tell the story; put your readers in the story, so they feel it in their bones.

If you want to create an even stronger emotional connection between your reader and your protagonist, think about how the reader can relate emotionally to the protagonist. Consider what events may have happened in their own lives that would make them connect with them easily.

6. Create some wounds and scars

Remember that no real person is an entirely blank slate when deciding how to write a backstory. Before your character ever encounters the inciting incident of your story, they’ve had a life, and that life has left some wounds—some literal, some emotional. Maybe your character was bullied as a child, or their parents split up when they were young, or they lost their first love to a car accident.

If it’s relevant to the story you’re telling and changes who they are in a meaningful way, it’s crucial for you to know about it. Think about how these scars have affected them and how this has led to their future choices. Don’t be afraid to get very specific in your descriptions. Knowing that your character is scared of commitment isn’t enough.

What is it about the commitment that scares them? What happened in their past that made them fear it so much? And what experiences have they had because of this fear? You can use these details to add texture to your character and make them more realistic.

7. Give your character a secret

Secrets are a great way to give your character some depth and help the reader connect with them. If your character is guilty of something that they cannot reveal to anyone else, the reader will have to be their confidante. If they are hiding something from everyone else, then the reader can feel unique for knowing this information about them, which will make them feel more connected and involved with your story.

The secret does not have to be a big deal when planning how to write a backstory. It can just be something small that you want to conceal. An excellent example of this is if you’re writing about a character who has an addiction problem but does not want the story to revolve around this issue.

You don’t have to tell your audience about their addiction straight away; you can instead reveal it through small clues at first, such as cigarettes in the bin or empty pill bottles hidden under their bed. The secret could be anything from a hidden skill they have been practicing in secrets, such as painting or singing, or something more personal like dealing with depression or anxiety.

8. Create some goals

The next step of how to write a backstory is creating your character’s goals is a great way to start writing your character’s backstory. A goal is something that your character wants to achieve. A goal should be more than just getting the girl or saving the world. It should be specific to the character and how it will change who they are.

A goal can also be based on an aspect of your story. Suppose you know that in chapter one of your book, the main character overhears his boss talking to another executive about stealing some files from a competitor. In that case, he could have a goal to do something about this, like quit his job or expose his corrupt boss.

A personal goal can also relate directly to who the character is. For example, if their job puts them in danger, they want to find a new job so they don’t die or get injured doing what they love. Or maybe their family has been threatened, and they want to protect those close to them by becoming more powerful or getting more allies.

9. Find what your character believes in

One of the essential parts of deciding how to write a backstory is creating a believable character is figuring out what they believe in. What are their values? What are their beliefs? Do they have a personal philosophy? How do they react to situations based on those values and beliefs? These questions will help you discover your character’s backstory in more depth.

For example, if your character is religious, you’ll have to ask yourself why. Was it something they were raised with that they never questioned? Or did they arrive at their religious beliefs after years of searching for meaning? Either way, you’ll have to imagine what that experience would feel like and write about it from your character’s perspective.

If your character is an atheist, you might ask yourself why that is: maybe he had a negative experience with religion, or perhaps he’s not interested in spiritual things. Whatever the case may be, explore how this affects his view of himself and the world around him.

10. Brainstorm character relationships and alliances

Character relationships and alliances are a great way to develop your character’s backstory. Think about how your character relates to the other people in their lives, whether it’s family, friends, or something else. What kind of relationships do they have? Are they close to their family, or did they run away from home? What types of friends do they have? Do they have romantic partners or associates?

These relationships can help you form an idea of your character’s character. You may want to create some characters for your world related to your main characters, such as parents, siblings, or cousins when deciding how to write a backstory

If you do this, think about the relationship these characters had with each other when they were growing up. This can help you create a more detailed backstory for your character and give them context within the world you’ve made.

11. Decide if your character has any enemies

Before you start planning how to write a backstory, you should ask yourself if this character has any enemies. If the answer is no, it might make sense to re-think your character’s personality. Real people have enemies because real people are complex and flawed. Even if your character isn’t a villain, they still need to have complex motivations that could put them at odds with other characters in the story.

For example, if your protagonist is a police officer who wants to fight corruption within their department, they might make an enemy of a crooked cop within the same department. It’s essential to have a clear idea of your characters’ enemies and why they’re enemies before you start writing their backstory.

12. Describe your character’s hometown

Your character’s hometown will significantly affect how they see the world, so make sure you think carefully about what it’s like when deciding how to write a backstory. Is it a small town or a big city? Is it run down or well-kept? Does everyone know everyone else, or are people more private and secretive? Do people work there or commute to another place to work?

Are buildings old, new, or in between? Is the weather warm or cold? What kind of culture is dominant—is it religious, family-oriented, sports-focused, music-focused, artistic, political, or historical? What was the area like when your character was growing up—perhaps there have been some significant changes since then. It might be helpful to model your fictional setting after a real place that you’re familiar with.

13. Determine who raised your character

Choose who raised your character when learning how to write a backstory. Who was their caregiver? This can be a mother, father, foster parents, aunt, uncle, grandma, grandpa, or even an older sibling. It is crucial to determine which one it is because this will help you build the rest of your character’s back story.

If you have a troubled background for your character, you might want to go with someone who can provide for all the struggles your character has had. Most people would agree that when a parent dies or abandons their child, it creates some hardship on them mentally or emotionally.

This will help you decide what kind of hardships your character has gone through in life and how they handled them. If they are more outgoing than shy, they probably had a good upbringing, but if they struggle with relationships and trust issues, they probably had an abusive childhood.

Four reasons to create a backstory

how to write a backstory

One of the most important things to consider when you’re writing a story is the backstory. It’s the foundation of your world and can enrich your story in various ways. Here are four reasons why you should learn how to write a backstory.

1. Builds empathy

When you create a backstory and fully flesh out your characters, you’re not just taking time to get to know them better. You’re also creating an opportunity to understand the other characters in your story and their motivations.

As a writer, it’s essential to see the big picture and understand what each of your characters wants and how they plan on getting there. This will help you write the scenes of conflict and allow you to know how both characters are feeling about the situation.

2. Deepens character motivations

A character’s backstory gives you some of the most critical information about who they are. It helps you understand what motivates them, what drives them and why they behave the way they do. A character’s past experiences influence their present behavior and create patterns that repeat throughout their life.

Understanding this can help you decide how your character would react to certain situations and how they will react once things start to go wrong. The more information you have about a character’s backstory, the easier it is for you to be consistent with them in every scene because their actions and reactions will always align with who they are as a person.

3. Provides a framework

Backstory gives you the framework for all your future decisions about character development, plot twists, and even what kind of dress the protagonist wears. It can be beneficial to fill in gaps when you find yourself stuck in a story. For example, if your main character suddenly faces a conflict she needs to resolve, think back to your backstory.

How would her history affect her decision-making? Why would she react in this way or that? This type of thinking also helps you understand why your characters do the things they do. When writers understand their characters’ motivation, they come alive and feel real to the reader.

4. Makes the story more personal

Using a backstory allows the audience to see the character in a different light. Because we now have more knowledge about the character, we can see why they behave in specific ways and act in certain situations. This creates a different kind of bond between the character and the audience.

While you may disagree with their actions, you can at least understand why they’re behaving that way. This makes it easier for viewers to relate to the characters, which is always good for an audience.

Frequently asked questions

Here are the answers to some of your questions about how to write a backstory.

What are some examples of backstories?

A backstory is a story that precedes the main plot. It provides information about characters or events that are not revealed by the main story.

Examples of Backstory
The HobbitIn The Hobbit, Bilbo’s backstory is that he was a hobbit who loved adventures but didn’t like to leave his home. Gandalf convinces him to join the adventure, which is the book’s main plot.
Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s StoneIn Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry’s backstory is that his parents were killed by Voldemort, leaving him with Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, who treated him poorly. Also, he had no idea Harry was a wizard until Hagrid showed up and told him all about it (the beginning of the main plot.)

What is a mary sue character?

A “Mary Sue” or a “Gary Stu” character is a character that is too perfect. They are self-insert characters of the author, and they tend to be perfect in every way possible. Mary Sues can also be used to describe an exemplary character, but also one that has many flaws, as it can vary in how far the character is pushed beyond normal human limits.

The main trait that defines Mary Sue is that they have no fundamental flaws that hold them back, and their only issues are external and easily overcome by them. They have no need for support from other characters because they can accomplish all tasks put before them, and any harm taken against them will be reversed before long and not matter at all.

What is an anti-sue character?

An anti-sue is a character written to be the opposite of a mary sue. These characters are often designed to be so over-the-top that they become unlikable, and some anti-sues go even further, with traits that aren’t merely irritating but downright heinous. An anti-sue isn’t necessarily a villain, although many of them are.

An anti-sue is simply a character who has no redeeming qualities or whose personality traits are meant to be loathsome for the sake of being loathsome. Anti-sues are often introduced as an antagonist to the main character (a hero) who is intended to be more likable, and they’re usually designed to be defeated by the hero to highlight their superior qualities.

Conclusion

As you’ve seen, backstories can be a great way to inform your current story. They can also be an effective way of giving more depth and interest to your characters and giving them a grounding in reality, no matter how fantastical the situation. When you’re planning how to write a backstory, try to focus on what’s relevant.

Don’t overdo it with details or exposition that aren’t important to your present-day plot. You may find that it’s a valuable tool for keeping your characters true to themselves, which is one of the essential parts of writing a convincing story.

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