When Your Backstory Becomes Your Story

This week’s video offers several options for dealing with a large and fascinating backstory.  But before we dive into the post, let me invite you to stop over at Roz Morris’s blog My Memories of a Future Life. For the last few months, she’s been hosting the fascinating series Undercover Soundtrack, in which authors reveal the music that fuels their writing. Today, I talk about my soundtrack for Behold the Dawn.

Video Transcript:

Backstory, as we all know, is called backstory for the very reason that it belongs in back of the story. It’s not the point of the story; it’s only, in a sense, the explanation for the story. So, naturally, we’re always careful not to let the backstory take over. We’re alert to its sneaky attempts to horn in and hog more of the limelight than it deserves. But what if your backstory does merit more time than you can give it?

Whenever I outline a story, I always write in-depth backstories for all the characters, and sometimes those backstories end up taking on a life of their own, to the point that the backstory actually ends up being more informative and compelling than the original plot. So what do you do if this hap`pens to you? You may want to stick with your original story, which will mean stuffing your upstart backstory back where it belongs. Often this means simplifying complicated motivations and trigger points in your characters’ pasts, so you can explain them in the story proper with the least amount of trouble or potential confusion to the reader.

However, there are a couple more options. Maybe your story is too big for just one book. Maybe you should consider turning it into a series, with the backstory featured as the first book. Or maybe you’ll want to go ahead and write your original story, with an eye toward using the backstory in a prequel later on. It’s also possible that you may want to ditch your original plot altogether. If the backstory is the more interesting of the two, it’s the story that deserves to be told. Finally, you might want to consider the popular if sometimes tricky technique of framing your backstory as a lengthy (we’re talking hundreds of pages) flashback, with the main plot appearing at the beginning and end of the book, much as William Faulkner did in his classic Light in August. Whatever your choice, just remember that what interests you most is probably what will interest your readers as well.

Tell me your opinion: Have you ever had a backstory take over?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Hannah Killian says

    I feel like it is with at least one story. Maybe two?

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