The #1 Problem With Backstory (and Its Simple Fix)

There’s a problem with backstory? Among writers that’s a rhetorical question. We all know there are lots of potential problems with backstory—everything from where to put it in the story to how much of it we should even be sharing with readers in the first place.

But before you can start worrying about any of those problems, you should first be worrying about this one.

You Will Never Have a Problem With Backstory if You Ask This Question

Before you ask where or how much, you first need to ask yourself what? What should your backstory be about?

Backstory can be about many things. At its broadest definition, it is simply the history of your characters’ lives prior to the chronological beginning of your story (kinda like Kermit’s Swamp Years).


Your protagonist had parents, he was born, he did some stuff here there, and most of it was boring–with the exception of one very important event.

This one event is going to be the heart of not just your backstory, but your character’s entire arc.

This event is the Ghost or wound in your character’s past. (Lots more on the Ghost here.)

2 Important Ways the Ghost Transforms Your Story

Focusing on the Ghost does several things for your story.

1. The Ghost Ups the Stakes

If your character’s backstory is all sunshine and roses, that really doesn’t offer much oomph the main story. But if it’s tragic, it has the potential to contribute to inner conflict (via the Lie the Character Believes), drive the character’s motivations, and even introduce personal antagonists into the present-day conflict.

2. The Ghost Brings Focus to the Story

Most authors instinctively understand that “something bad” happening in your character’s past is much more interesting than “something good.” But it’s not enough to just dream any ol’ awful situation. The Ghost you come up with must be pertinent to the main story and your character’s arc within it.

The #1 Potential Problem With Backstory

That leads us right up to that promised Number One Problem With Backstory. This is the Problem of the Backstory That Doesn’t Have a Point.

I don’t often call out books and movies as bad examples, but today I have one that’s so egregiously perfect, I pretty much have to.

Consider the Wachowskis’ blockbuster flop Jupiter Ascending. This story has so many problems it could (and probably will) inspire a slew of posts, but for now, consider the Ghost in protagonist Jupiter Jones’s backstory: her dad’s death and her still-pregnant mother’s illegal immigration to America.

Jupiter Ascending James Darcy Telescope Gif

Jupiter Ascending (2015), Warner Bros.

In isolation, this is a great backstory Ghost. The problem? It has absolutely no impact upon the main plot. This is all the more grievous since the Ghost is given a lengthy prologue dramatization that screams This is important!

Except it’s not important. Aside from Jupiter’s attachment to the stories of her father and her related interest in the stars, the story never circles back to explain why the dad’s violent murder at the hands of Russian thugs was significant.

So let’s review. Giving your protagonist a tragic backstory? Good. Having that backstory affect the plot and character arc in important ways? Even better! Consider your work-in-progress and make sure the awesome backstory you’ve dreamed up is serving as more than just window dressing.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What is the biggest problem with backstory you struggle with in your writing? Tell me in the comments!


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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. I think I’m on the right track here. In my upcoming WIP, my protagonist had a shaky early life after his mother died and his father packed him off to boarding school. This familial loss comes back to haunt him (no pun intended) at the first plot point of the actual story, when his wife dies. I’m not really sure how that backstory will consciously come into play, as I don’t think the main character knows a whole lot about his early life, but perhaps the story would be stronger if I left clues, rather than flat out saying what his past was.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Making a mystery of the backstory (assuming, of course, that its revelation actually matters to the main plot) can be a fabulous technique for teasing readers along. My rule of thumb is: drop hints about the backstory for as long as possible, until the last possible moment when you absolutely *must* tell about it outright, to prevent reader confusion.

  2. Mornin’!

    Thanks for giving us the ghost. Comes in timely as I’ll be considering my backstories alot in the coming days. It’s good to hear how the backstory potentially may NOT impact the story. This will require further study on my part. As I’m not sure how it all gels just yet.

    Good post, don’t give up the ghost!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s worthwhile to note that as useful and rich as backstories have the potential to be, you don’t *have* to include a major backstory in order for the main story to work. Some stories need only a nod or two the character’s past to provide context, while others (such as Harry Potter, which Lyn mentioned below) end up being a complex unraveling *of* the backstory.

  3. When we start in medias res, or with the inciting incident in the first few pages – as seems to be the fashion these days (and fiction really does evolve through fashions) – if we fail to show how the protagonist became the person he/she is, then there’s a danger that the character will remain one-dimensional.

    The best characters have depth and complexity. I can’t create a character who has no background. By the same token, when I show his/her backstory, it must relate to the forward story. It must show why the character acts and reacts in certain ways.

    Just think of such great stories as Casablanca and The Harry Potter Series, where everything in the story leans back on what happened before. With Rick – his cynicism stems directly from his lost love from Paris: with Harry Potter it is the death of his father and the scar on his forehead.

    My decision about the content of backstory relies upon only one question: what happened in the past to this protagonist to cause him/her to react to events and conflicts when the story begins and as it goes forward. I rarely start with backstory: I slip it in here and there at appropriate moments along the way, and as the story continues, the character deepens. I think.

    For me, backstory is mostly about character development.

    • Thanks, that sounds very close to what I’ve been doing.

      I have a YA romance. First we (the readers) find out through a few events and interactions that he is very shy around girls. Later it’s shown how she craves commitment, as she doesn’t want to be like her mother who had three kids with three guys. As their relationship progresses she’s very sensitive to things he says or does that hint he’s not totally devoted to her – but in trying to hold him close she does things that might drive him away.

      As you said, they start the story the way they are because of previous experiences.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        It’s interesting that you, especially, would comment on this, Lyn, since your Schellendorf series began with a such a rich backstory that you were able to go back and fill it in in earlier books in the series.

        • Katie, I think the only reason I actually did go back and fill in the backstory was that in the original novel (3rd of the series), I did not KNOW the full backstory. So I had to go back and fill in the blanks for my own satisfaction.
          Perhaps that is the most effective way of writing backstory – that there are intriguing blanks to fill in, either in the writing or in the reader’s imagination.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            And it ended up being so seamless that readers wouldn’t even be able to guess the books are written out of order.

    • Good points! Thanks for sharing.

    • I agree. In the story I’m currently working on, my main character’s backstory comes out in spurts. She’ll be doing something, or hear something and that incites a flashback. These flashbacks are meant to help a reader understand her reactions and to help give her greater dimension.

      In particular, where my character rejected her past and a culture around her she views as corrupt. These spurts help the reader see how she jumped from living a more “normal” lifestyle to rejection to her current habits. Since her off beat lifestyle directly leads to the inciting incident that creates conflict, it’s key the reader get on board her vision as opposed to more common understandings of the world around them.

      The past informs the present, and I think it’s equally interesting to build characters whose flow between history and present drive the view and action in the story.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        I never cease to be amazed by how memory works–and how little subconscious memories like this are such an inherent part of us, sometimes without our realizing it, much less *why* they keep popping up. Great observation.

  4. A rule I have about backstories is that they have to be the “origin story” of the character or plot: It has to show why people or situations are the way they are at the time of the story.

    I’m resurrecting a drawer story I wrote long ago, and backstories play a huge role in the structure: The backstories show the invasion that is now an occupation when the story begins. They show the origins of a vendetta one protagonist has against another. They set up decisions another character will make in her arc and create suspense.

    I’m at the outline stages right now with my “reboot” but this post reminds me to look at these backstories now in terms of “ghost” and “the lie.” It gives me a delicious framework for those arcs. Very timely post!

  5. I admit, both of my novels have limited back story. Heck, my first one, the only back story I provide isn’t one of the main characters. It is the older brother of one of them and I only did his because I wanted the reader to see how America had swept the Lebanon veterans under the carpet back in the 80s. I do have a small back story for my protagonist in my second one. However, that was only to show how good things were for him at the place he moved from in contrast to the hell he was about to experience in the place he was moving to.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Limited backstory isn’t necessarily a problem. Indeed, sometimes the most powerful backstories are those are only alluded to. This creates subtext and allows the reader’s own powerful imagination to fill in the blacks. As long as the *sense* of the backstory is there, that’s what’s most important.

  6. I love the “Ghost” concept! It’s so simple and groundbreaking at the same time. I think this sums up a major edit to backstory and how to make it easier to wrangle. (Yes, wrangle.)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Awesome. I always love it when that last piece finally clicks into place and makes a needed edit make sense.

  7. R. R. Willica says

    I think this goes right along with my theory that you should always ask yourself “why” questions while writing.

    “Why did this happen?” Is a good one but “why should I care?” is even better. “Why should I care that my character hates his job? Why should I care that my character’s family died. Why should I care that my character likes old music that reminds them of grandma?”

    If you can’t find a reason, your readers won’t care, either.

    I haven’t seen Jupiter Rising, but I’m guessing that’s exactly what happened. They forgot to ask why then answer the question.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Exactly. It’s easy to fall into the assumption that readers will care just because this is The Protagonist, or just because the backstory contains Something Horrible. But neither of those things can be taken for granted. A reader’s investment must always be earned, not just with emotion, but with logic.

  8. What I enjoy most about Katie’s blogs is that they generate a lot of thought and feedback and *expansion* from many different kinds of fiction writers. Not just useful, it’s a fun thing, too.

  9. Steve Mathisen says

    Another insightful post on the problems of and solutions to backstory. Too often we see authors so infatuated with inconsequential backstory. It makes me wonder if they were not trying to write the wrong book.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Backstory brings stories to life. The mystery and the intrigue of it–even if it’s just something as simple as “how did the character become who he is?”–is fascinating. It’s all the parts that *aren’t* fascinating that we have to beware of as writers.

      • My WIP protagonist had some bad things happen to detour his sports career 20 years earlier. He’s had to suffer the indignities that follow. Yet for a decade he’s been a stand-up comic. Is that backstory justified? I’m shooting for irony and satire as well as redemption for him even as the current conflicts escalate in his life. The past can’t be forgotten or hidden with humor, as he discovers, so he vents his anger at times by recalling past injustices. Is that the way a veteran writer sprinkles background info into a storyline?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          If his ghost as an ex-athlete were a catalyst for his current career and/or are at the heart of his current internal struggle, then it will work just fine.

  10. This is an excellent post, but now I *really* want to see that Kermit the Frog thing 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hah. I have to admit I’ve never actually seen it. I just remember an episode (maybe from Muppet Babies) when Kermit was telling his life story and started waaaaaay back at the beginning with “I was a tadpole.” I always think of that when I think of extraneous backstory. :p

      • I remember that Kermit episode way wa-a-ay back. I clearly remember wondering (tongue in cheek) how Kermit could possibly *remember* himself as a tadpole. (That was me, the biologist, thinking…)

  11. Great post about backstory. I think sometimes the struggle is with how to include the ghosts effectively without completely stopping the action of the main story line with a long flashback. As mentioned in a comment above, often the best ghost is one alluded to but not fully explained.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The best trick is simply to make sure the Ghost *matters* to the main plot. If it’s a catalyst that’s driving the conflict, it will never be a threat to the story’s pacing and forward momentum.

  12. I think a good thing to do with backstory is to have someone else in the story be the only one who can tell others what happened. The character who was is haunted by whatever happened shouldn’t verbally obsess over it. Recently I read Great Expectations and for Miss Havisham’s backstory it was set up like this, and I also saw a great example of it in Avatar The Last Airbender; Zuko couldn’t talk about the Ghost he was being haunted by, he just talked about how he needed to reclaim his honor (which he supposedly lost in that event).
    I have a hard time with this in my own stories, but I’m getting better at implementing the backstory.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I agree. Especially if you’re not telling readers about the Ghost upfront, there needs to be a good reason that the protagonist is either taking it for granted or not thinking about it–otherwise, you have to pull shenanigans to avoid readers’ learning about it within the POV.

  13. To quote from the top…
    There’s a problem with backstory? Among writers that’s a rhetorical question. We all know there are lots of potential problems with backstory—everything from where to put it in the story to how much of it we should even be sharing with readers in the first place.
    Then there is the technique of opening a novel showing the average daily life of the protagonist before the crash of an inciting incident which changes his life forever. In effect, opening with backstory.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I define the Inciting Event as the turning point halfway through the First Act, when the character first brushes with the main conflict/Call to Adventure. The setup prior to that will be important to and will obviously affect everything that follows, but it *is* setup and, as such, I wouldn’t necessarily qualify it as backstory, although I see where you’re coming from.

      There *are* stories (Jupiter Ascending arguably being one) that open with prologue-like scenes that are at a time remove from the main story, and in that instance, you’re right, they are essentially backstory. However, as I argue in this post, this type of opening should be used with caution, as it has the decided drawback of revealing too much and destroying possible subtext throughout the rest of the story (as it *definitely* did in Jupiter Rising, the weakness of the Ghost itself aside).

  14. Thank you so much for this post! This is *exactly* what I needed to hear today, as I struggle with editing a chapter loaded down with tons of “hit the reader over the head” level of backstory. And you generated such useful comments, too! I can already see how thinking in terms of “ghosts” and “wounds” is going to help me focus in on what’s important to say.

  15. LaDonna Ockinga says

    As I tracked through the comments, I saw how important your post today was to writers. I loved the symbolism of the ghost of the backstory haunting the character. It really clarifies the question of how much of the backstory should be in the novel, and where to tie it in to the current action. Thanks. This was one of those “Wow, I get it now” moments.

  16. My book is about a young girl who was thought to be dead and then she is found by her cousin. A lot of the plot is backstory because it talks about the events that caused someone to fake her death. I have the problem of her backstory, plus her families backstory. All the events focus back to my main character. The question is “Why did this happen?” I also have the characters give their own version of what happened. A lot of things that were buried in the past come to light. I am afraid that my story is all backstory. I wonder if that will bore readers.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Personally, I love stories that are ultimately explorations of backstory. As long as the backstory is itself interesting (which yours certainly seems to be) and as long as you’re asking more question for the majority of the book than you are providing answers (i.e., keeping the reader curious), you’ll be fine.

  17. Bwaha!! That is so true!! I’m still kicking myself for paying to see that movie in the theater. Absolutely HATED it, even though Channing Tatum was in it. It was so stupid and so lame, and you’re totally right. They made such a big deal about her parents and it meant nothing. I thought it was going to be revealed that she was half-alien or something, but nope. I think they should’ve left that whole part out. Thanks for the post.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      There comes a point where you have to start wondering what they *shouldn’t* have left out. :p

    • I was so hyped to see the movie with all of the trailers of Jupiter Rising, but by the time I finished the movie I was quite disappointed. Never could figure out why though. I felt like it had potential but lacked something critical. This is what I call the “cotton candy” affect. It looks good, smells good and even tastes good initially. But when you’re finished you realize the fluff, the lack of substance, the disappointment settles and you’re still left hungry. That’s my own response to the movie. But I’m sure it’s a lot harder to write something that resonates with the viewers/readers that give them what they’re looking for. That emotional response, that oomph, or a barrel of laughs, tears, hope, joy. To me this is quite a science! Easier said than done. I’m certainly hoping to learn how to do it. One mistake at a time.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        Bottom line problem with this movie was that it never brought the vast majority of its plot elements around full circle in the second half.

  18. This is one thing I think I am getting right in my WIP–mostly because I realized fairly early on in the outlining process that what inspired the story was going to be back story and the antagonist.

    My MC grew up believing she would marry her then-next-door-neighbor, who moves away. At the first plot point, he moves back, and it is his presence and the MC’s belief that he is her soul mate that keeps her from the real romantic interest.

  19. Thank you. You just pointed at what another problem with my novel is.

    So in short the Protagonist is searching for somebody she thought she killed when she couldn’t control her powers in the past. Turns out the only connection (namely that that’s who she is looking for.) is not exciting enough. I tweaked a little and now the antagonist force that is not wanting her to find that woman is the same that provoked her outburst. They remember her and have even more reasons to stop her. Suddenly higher stakes!

    On a different note, I can’t be the only one that get’s an appetite for beef when all I’m doing is thinking about stakes…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Oh, thanks. Now I’m craving a medium rare T-Bone. :p

      Great instincts here on your part. A good Ghost should always be inherently tied to the stakes.

  20. Number One problem, Back story slows the action, meaning plot development. This is particularly true in the first few chapters.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Writers sometimes just need to go ahead and get that backstory out of their systems early on. But if they can then go back and critically delete every reference that isn’t *absolutely necessary* for moving the plot forward at that moment, it will tighten things up tremendously.

  21. Backstory is one of my favorite parts of writing (creating it that is). I have a rather large cast, and as a character driven book, backstory is critical (NOT through info dumping, I hate that).
    A few years ago, I stumbled upon what has become, for me, a surefire way to create backstory almost without effort (by far the most important technique I’ve ever learned). I was listening to some new music, and as I was following along with the lyrics some of the words clicked into place …
    You live what you learn.
    Five words which have forever changed the way I view backstory, because if the future is a reaction to past events, you simply need to mirror past events. If you know the past, you reflect it to the future, if you know the future use it to create the past. (Example: if a character is betrayed by their father in the past, another betrayal by someone they look up to, especially someone who might resemble the father, maybe a father figure or leader, will impact them more than a betrayal by a friend, or a betrayal by the person who helped them get through the original wound).

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s awesome! I totally love that whole concept. Thanks for sharing! Do you happen to remember the name of the song?

  22. Thinking about backstory on and off all day today, I put it into its place. Never analysed this before, but here goes.
    I use backstory the way I remember moments in my own life. I’ll be doing something – for example, every time I towel my hair after a shampoo I ALWAYS recall a moment when I was a kid when several roommates asked me to show them how I made a turban out of the towel. So I did a demonstration of making a turban from a towel. Seems simple, right?
    But then I realised that these girls had gathered round just to make me into a fool.
    This nasty little memory has stuck ever since, like a scene from a movie. And the memory is always triggered the same way, by towelling my wet hair.
    THAT is how I handle backstory in my novels.
    What I’m saying is that we all have flashes of memory (in literature they’re called flashbacks, of course). The way we remember those moments is the way I write my backstory. A small flash at a time at suitable moments in the continuing story.
    I don’t know if this helps anyone else here…………
    And no, I see nothing wrong with flashbacks so long as they do not interrupt the story, but add to it.

    • AHA moment of the most sublime kind! I knew I had a backstory problem in my WIP, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint where it was. Today is full of hope thanks to you. Not only do I know where I’ve gone wrong, but I also know what I’ve been doing right.

  23. I find back story a something very important that can either be shown or not. Every author, I believe must give their characters some backstory, even if it is only for extra motivation. Backstory to a novel is as core muscles to a body. It is a spine. A boat’s keel. I may be running out of metaphors, but I love a good backstory. My current novel has many hints to the backstory. And it is all building up the reveal. Its tragedy will make things clearer. It shows a piece of character arc.
    In short. Backstory? Yes. Because who wants to be spineles.
    Thank you for the great post.

  24. K.M., very helpful. You brought some things into focus here on how a backstory can be effective. Enjoyed. Learned.

  25. I try not to use any long flashback backstories unless it adds something to either a character’s development, the story, or both. Of course that doesn’t mean I’ll never mess up and add something pointless.

  26. This post just gave me four paragraphs of notes on how to make my Character’s “Ghost” more clear, and strengthen theme around a unifying concept that touches all major players. Knowledge feeds imagination.

  27. Marilyn Delson says

    Two main characters who start a relationship, each having equally strong backstories. My solution is to have two scenes within appropriate chapters (as the story develops) which give their POVs at time backstory was occurring. Does this timetripping and change in POV with a chapter confuse the reader, or does it give reader better understanding about what is happening in real time within the chapter?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It depends. There is definitely a time and a place for flashbacks. But they have to be used very skillfully. Usually, I would caution against them. There are less obtrusive ways of relaying important backstory. For example, creating scenes in which it’s important for a character to reveal backstory revelations to another character not only provides what is usually a more seamless integration of the backstory–it also provides a better opportunity for development of characters and their relationships.

  28. This has helped me a lot. Seeing as this is one of the problems that I have been up against with a story.

  29. Thank you for the great advice! This is something I’m have a lot of fun implementing in the writing process.

  30. My main problem is finding the right place to put it in! I’ve got part of the back story several chapters deep into the book and then nothing. oops. There’s to many problems with the book lately so I’m just doing a hard revision on all the chapters. I’m hoping along the way I can find a place to put the backstory in sooner. Have made so many mistakes around that middle chapter it’s nuts. The middle chapter is fine, but the ones around it aren’t.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      A good rule of thumb is: if the backstory isn’t necessary to any current moment in the plot, then it probably doesn’t need to be there anyway. Dribble hints and teases, but don’t share backstory until that moment when readers *need* to know it to understand something important about the main plot.

  31. Andrea Rhyner says

    Creating characters is my most difficult piece of any story. The ghost, lie, wants and really needs are the most helpful things I’ve come across so far in creating characters. I still have a hard time with it, but I’m not sure why. I try to find a picture on the internet to show the character. Still, I can’t feel them. Do you have any advice on how you get past this?

    thank you,

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sometimes I can’t fully discover a character until I actually start writing them–and even then, sometimes I have to write a *lot* before I find the rhythm. I would recommend doing some practice sheets. Just play with the character, get inside his head. Maybe do an interview, in which you just throw questions at him and really make him dig down deep to answer.

  32. I try to make my flashbacks and backstories matter, but I never thought of it as a few questions you need to ask before you include them in the book. Thanks for providing us with a more firm method to make sure these flashbacks and backstories don’t waste the reader’s time.

    Probably my two favourite uses of backstory that I’ve used in my writing take place in book 2 and 3 of the series I’m trying to get published. In the second book, it flashes back to one of the main characters’ childhood – her very worst memory, and the main villain is the cause. It’s why she’s still terrified of him to this day and can’t even mentally function when he’s around.

    In book 3, around half of the book is a flashback. It’s a tragic lstory where the series main character is found by some of her enemies from her work as a mercenary, and they destroy the normal life she’s trying to build. The main plot is an epic 2-way revenge story. I haven’t quite figured out how I want to balance the story though – should there be more focus on the tragic love story or the action heavy stuff?

  33. Thank you for sharing this. I have written some backstory scenes that were referred to in my first story. But not shared until the second story. 1. Why my character left her homeland. 2. How my character met leading male #2 & why they cling to each other. I have been wondering if I am giving too much away by sharing bits of the secondary characters’ back ground to explain why they become so close to the main character so fast.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sometimes information like this is important for establishing realism and suspension of disbelief. If you’re worried readers won’t understand or buy into the characters’ close relationship happening so quickly, then that would definitely be a good reason to start sharing pertinent backstory details.

  34. Great post! I struggle a lot with backstory. The first problem for me is actually coming up with one! And then once I have a backstory for a character, I can never decide how much to reveal and how much should just be subtext.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Treat backstory just like you would any other important information in the story: never info dump it and only share it when it really matters to the plot.

  35. LadyHarmonia says

    What is your opinion about alluding to a backstory during the main events of the story,but actually writing the backstory as its own separate book? I guess it would be like a prequel. That something I always enjoyed when reading and writing. Sometimes its better not knowing to much on the past events, and having a detailed account about them separate from the main story can be more interesting.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is definitely a fun approach. As long as the prequel doesn’t become anticlimactic due to the knowledge shared in the main story, you shouldn’t have a problem.

    • LadyHarmonia, I have done that. Wrote a WWII novel, 1939-1945, from an unusual angle – that is, from the POV of a German general (see my earlier response way way back around 30 January). I was so intrigued by my protagonist I needed to fill in his backstory starting in 1912. It turned out to be a four-novel historical series. By doing the backstory research I found out much of what had mystified me about the Hitler era.
      Go for it.

  36. K.M.,

    What do you mean by the ghost? Does every character need a backstory?

    In my co-author book I have a lot of characters like Valkor, Leilani, Cara, Zane, Zola, her husband and also Maia, the creator goddess to name a view.

    So in the book I have about sixteen characters or sixteen characters.

  37. Ms. Albina says


    Do you have an example of a written backstory of a character? Since I have to write one for all of my characters.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Not off the top of my head. But if you watch while reading your favorite books, you can study how great authors sow their backstory in.

    • My suggestion is to first know yourself what the backstory is – the events, sometimes painful, that made the character what they are when the story begins.

      Once you, as author, have that understanding of the character, dole it out in pieces where it’s relevant to the story.

      My main character is a college student who’s quite shy and anxious, which has prevented him from having any serious relationships with girls. Much of that comes from a fear of failure, and much of that comes from his relationship with his father.

      All through the story I’ve shown the father and son struggle to relate, and there will be a big argument to start the third act. My current chapter looks at Dad’s family, and his history with his own father. Even though I’m yet to be a great author, If you email me at I’d be glad to send you that current chapter as an example.

  38. Lynda Nash says

    Hi, what can you do when you have all backstory and no forward story? I know everything that happened to my character but her present problem is one existent. This problem is holding up my writing 🙂


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