This week’s video learn how to write backstory that matters to your story and entrances readers with its possibilities.
I get a lot of questions about backstory:
How much should you include?
Where should you put in your book?
When should you put it?
And these are all really good questions. Backstory is a crucial part of any book because it’s what creates a broader view of your story, a deeper context. In many respects, backstory is what will bring your characters to life and convince readers they’re living, breathing people who have a dimensional existence even outside of the story itself. So never discount backstory.
But perhaps because of its very importance, backstory can be tricky to handle. Writers often end up throwing the entirety of their backstory at their readers at the wrong moment. So how do you know the right moment?
I’m going to go out on a limb—but not very far—and say that the only rule about backstory that truly matters to the success of your story is finding that right moment. Fortunately, there’s a secret hack to make this all much simpler.
And that is this: Never share your character’s backstory until the last possible moment, right before whenever readers will be hopelessly confused without knowing the backstory. Hint all you like, but don’t actually share the facts of that delicious backstory until you have to.
Joon-ho Bong’s post-apocalyptic Snowpiercer is a good example of this, and it gives a little extra boost of depth and subtext to an otherwise relatively simple and plot-heavy story. Right away, we learn the main character has a backstory—and that it’s an interesting backstory, because he’s obviously haunted by it. But does Bong tell us right away what this backstory is? Nope. Does he tell us in the First Act? Nope. Second Act? Nuh-huh. He doesn’t tell us until more than three-quarters of the way through the story, just before the Climax.
That’s a lot of waiting, but it works beautifully because it never burdens readers with information they don’t care about. Hook your readers in with a hint to make them care, and hold off on your big reveal until the last possible moment.