Who has a Backstory?

As we go through our prep work for NaNoWriMo, and take the time of creating our characters that will inhabit our story world, we need to make them not just two dimensional figures but also three dimensional. When I say three dimensional, I’m talking about their physical attributes as well as their identity attributes as well.

These attributes includes, their quirks, their relationships, what make them be them. Furthermore, what past event shaped to be who they are on page one. This is past event is part of their backstory. Now backstory is different from a flash back in that we should use backstory as a sprinkle to give clues as to who they are. If it is essential later on, to give a flash back scene then write it. But backstory should be used effectively to say this is who the character is on that first page of the novel.

Look at Harry Potter, for example, we know that within the first chapter of the story, Harry is an orphan due to his parents being killed. We know that due to this event, that he has to not only live with his aunt and uncle but that he at some point must face the evil villain that took his parent’s life. When we look at The Hunger Games, for example we know that Katniss has trust issues with the leaders of Panam and that her father was killed during a mining accident, and that for the most part she is the caretaker for her family.

However, the main character should not be the only one with a backstory that is reflected in the story, but setting as well. The setting that is on page one of the story, was also effected by a past event. Take Game of Thrones for example, we know that in the world of Westeros, we have had a long summer and now we are heading into a long winter, none that has ever been scene before. In The Hunger Games, we are aware that we are coming in on the day of the latest reaping and how that came about. We know in the world of Batman, that Gotham is an unsafe place due to jokers, and other villains being allowed to roam the streets free. Let’s face it in the world of Batman, there are too many villains and not enough police officers to put away the villains.

When you are writing or planning our your story, there are two essential elements that need to have a backstory, setting and character. If these two do not have the backstory, then the complexity that may be needed in the story is going to be missing. Remember, that today’s characters that are created and the worlds that we create need to be complex and allow for readers to get hooked on to them from the very first page.

When looking at the backstory that you are looking to create, look at the milestones that are part of the character or setting, such as the world was created or the character went to school. Then dive into further by asking, did anything particular take place when the world was created or at that first day of school? If you answer no, then you should brainstorm as to what could have been the worst possible outcome that came out of those two events.

By looking at the worst possible outcomes that could take place, you are bringing in trauma. Trauma is where growth begins to occur and you are damaging the psyche. This damage should not just be to the character. Keep in mind there will be outside influences that will play apart of the story but those influences, should also reflect in someway back to the character’s backstory.

The best advice that I can give on using backstory is to be hard on your character, for when you are harder on your character you will allow them to grow and to take shape. If you don’t allow them to grow, then the reader will not want to see what happens to them through out the book or how they overcome the ordeals that they have to deal with.

Furthermore, when coming up with backstory write it out during your planning phase, and when you use it in the story, just sprinkle it in for effect. Remember, we are not going for flashback, we want to give a hint of who they are on that first page. We only need to include info that the reader needs to know, if we give too much detail then we lose our edge and our secrets and our effectiveness to tell the story.

Backstory, can be challenging for some writers for they confuse it will flashbacks, but I suggest during this month to learn from masters that have used this convention effectively, the following examples, listed above should be looked at. But I will add another one, if you have never seen past episodes of NCIS: New Orleans, don’t. Watch the latest episode, and pay attention to the character of Dwayne Pride, for in that episode, they splash some backstory in there. Now my other suggestion, is don’t use Google to find out what has recently effected the character either, for that would be cheating.

If that is not your thing, then I would suggest watch an episode or movie with a really complex character and on a piece of paper, write down anything that hints to the character or setting backstory. Then re-watched that episode or movie and see if you catch anymore details that you might have missed. Don’t pay attention to clothing, colors, just what is shown clearly and dialog. If you catch on to those hints about backstory, then you have an example of how it is done.

I hope that you have found today’s topic helpful on backstory. I hope that you have a great planning or writing day!

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