Giving a character a backstory is essentially making them a more well-rounded character. It’s allowing your audience to get a better picture of who they are and what their motives might be.
Backstories are important to all characters – not just the main characters. Side characters, and especially villains, can greatly benefit from having a backstory of their own. It makes them much more real and grounded characters that have layers. Backstories allow you to write characters rather than caricatures.
But how do you write a backstory without it coming across as cliche or an info dump? There is a trick.
I like to think of a character’s backstory as an iceberg. You’ve got the top 5 percent that you see, while the other 95 percent is hidden beneath the surface. Much like Hemingway’s Iceberg Principle, if you tell the important parts of a character’s backstory, the whole thing will be easily inferable for the reader.
That is why, it would be a good idea to write out your character’s entire backstory – just get it all out there on paper. However, the trick is to not take everything from the backstory and dump it straight into your novel. Be strategic. Give the audience only the important or relevant backstory pieces that will help to propel the story forward. Your protagonist being an introvert might not be as necessary information to the story as them being an orphan. But if you write their backstory well enough, the reader will be able to infer the bits that are left out.
Basically, you should always make a backstory for your characters, but don’t feel the need to dump it all into the book. It is okay to leave some stuff out. That is what makes for a well-developed character.
One thought on “Character Backstories”
Love this post! What I do is fill out a character worksheet–there are several on various writing sites.