To avoid or not avoid: The Backstory

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joanofarc2015
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To avoid or not avoid: The Backstory

Post by joanofarc2015 » 08 Oct 2017, 23:38

I think one of the challenges most writers face is the element of time and considering a backstory.

We writers must decide the age and life milestones the main characters have to face. Now some experts say that a strong character does NOT have a backstory or heavy amounts of flashbacks to achieve his ultimate goals. Others say backstories are necessary to give an option of motivation.

What do you guys think about the backstory requirement?
If you think it can/must be part of a story, how much of the "past" do you include? What are your deciding factors?
If you believe backstories should be eliminated, how do you think of "motivation" factors to drive characters into action?

Thanks for your thoughts in advance :tiphat:

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Post by Salsabila » 09 Oct 2017, 00:31

Not all stories require back stories but they are efficient in giving an insight on the character's decisions and characters development. I recommend authors to write back stories but not too much of the back story that some times can not be connected to the main plot. The back story should be in portions such that one understands the character's perspective at a certain point is due to a certain factor in his/her life.

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Post by Gifty Naa Akushia » 11 Oct 2017, 11:14

Backstories are necessary however if the key characters are developed very well, they may not be too needful.

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Post by eelavahs-jay » 16 Oct 2017, 09:24

In some cases backstories may be a necessary evil for both readers and writers to understand what drives the characters. I think it's most important for the latter however. Reason being that if a writer fully understands his or her own characters then there'd be little need for adding clunks of the past into a novel because you'd have already conveyed their motives well enough in the present to the readers.

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Post by KlareAllison » 16 Oct 2017, 10:29

Backstories or heavy amounts of flashbacks, to be or not to be? I think it's basically a matter of individual writer's style or choice. However, since life and living are products of both the past and present, oftentimes, back stories become necessary tools for the creation of well-developed characters.
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Post by Brandi Noelle » 26 Oct 2017, 13:25

I think this depends completely on what the individual plot is and whether it requires a backstory to properly enhance it. I have just finished a novella about feminism that focused on a woman who had been raised by a trio of strong feminists. In order to fully illustrate their personal passion for this cause, I spent one chapter per person traveling back in time and showing them in their own historic battles. From a suffragist to a Rosie the Riveter, I felt this was a more colorful way to tell their story, rather than through a second-person account from the main character.

The plot for my next story, however, will not require a full backstory as the focal point of the character's journey is present-day. The few tidbits of information that will be necessary to get an understanding of her history will be better told in conversation with a supporting character.

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Post by Victor Rose » 07 Nov 2017, 14:11

Some backstories are needed to develop the character and/or plot. However, I never like it when I read pages of backstory and only the last couple of paragraphs is actually needed for the story to progress.

For main characters, I don't avoid them, but also don't include any more than is needed.

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Post by DATo » 07 Nov 2017, 20:06

Brandi Noelle wrote:I think this depends completely on what the individual plot is and whether it requires a backstory to properly enhance it. I have just finished a novella about feminism that focused on a woman who had been raised by a trio of strong feminists. In order to fully illustrate their personal passion for this cause, I spent one chapter per person traveling back in time and showing them in their own historic battles. From a suffragist to a Rosie the Riveter, I felt this was a more colorful way to tell their story, rather than through a second-person account from the main character.

The plot for my next story, however, will not require a full backstory as the focal point of the character's journey is present-day. The few tidbits of information that will be necessary to get an understanding of her history will be better told in conversation with a supporting character.
@Brandi Noelle
The description of your story reminds me a lot of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. If you are familiar with it you will know that in this novel most of the book is devoted to backstories for the same reason you used them and it worked beautifully.
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Post by Brandi Noelle » 08 Nov 2017, 13:31

DATo wrote: @Brandi Noelle
The description of your story reminds me a lot of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. If you are familiar with it you will know that in this novel most of the book is devoted to backstories for the same reason you used them and it worked beautifully.
I have not read “The Joy Luck Club” in ages, but yes, very similar concept. I think the need for a backstory is circumstantial based on the plot line.

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Post by DustinPBrown » 09 Nov 2017, 10:08

Brandi Noelle wrote: I have not read “The Joy Luck Club” in ages, but yes, very similar concept. I think the need for a backstory is circumstantial based on the plot line.
Absolutely. We tend to get so caught up in rules for writing that we forget that they're guidlines. If the story calls for it, write a backstory, and write it well. Your readers will appreciate it.

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Post by Whippet » 05 Jan 2018, 23:41

Hi there, I'm a big fan of back story. I think in a well-crafted story, much of the plot is actually 'back story' for the climax + denouement. It depends how much of it is relevant to those ends, how well written it is, etc.

This is how I view it as I write. I don't like to limit myself so instead of seeing it as a cumbersome device, I make it into a helpful one.

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Post by Lincolnshirelass » 08 Jan 2018, 05:07

I would say it varies with the book. Sometimes quite comprehensive ones are necessary (in my case I sometimes find them taking over the 'main' story and have to stop to consider if perhaps that's the story I really wanted to tell in the first place!) In other cases, it may not be necessary at all, but often there's the middle ground - with phrases like 'She suddenly caught her breath and remembered what happened the previous spring' or 'his friends would never understand why he dreaded visiting art galleries, and he doubted he would ever tell them', and building up the tension, either plot-driven or emotional or both. In a few rare instances, almost the entire work is a back-story - my beloved 'Rebecca' springs to mind. A novel can also be 'framed', as in 'Wuthering Heights'.
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Post by fergie » 08 Jan 2018, 11:57

All characters need a backstory. The reader might not need to know it, and certainly not all of it. But the writer does - if it's a main character anyway - because your backstory is what makes you as a person. For example, everyone has certain songs that remind them of good or bad times in their past, their childhood etc. There are smells that remind you of childhood, things that happened to you. They may not be huge in the story, but they may effect how and why a character reacts in the way they do. The writer really needs to know a character to write them well.

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Post by fergie » 08 Jan 2018, 12:01

But that said, it can be really hard knowing how much the reader need, or would want to, know!

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Post by SPasciuti » 11 Jan 2018, 16:37

Every character needs a backstory. You, as the author, have to be aware of as much as you can be in regards to why the character is who they are. That said, this information doesn't all need to be in the book. Sometimes it can just be notes for you as you write. I've always noticed that the best backstories are ones that come in quick and little things that you can use to help portray the character as they are and as they've developed to. I think the most important thing to remember in these instances is that you really want to show rather than tell 90% of the time.

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