Saturday, 10 August 2019

Writing: The Importance of Backstory

I have spent most of the day singing random songs from the Anastasia soundtrack instead of remembering to write this post. So now that I've finally sat down to write, I've actually got something in mind.

Anastasia has always been one of my favourite stories, and it has absolutely gorgeous music. ๐Ÿ˜ But more than that, it has well-crafted characters, deep themes, a fabulous plot, and so many childhood memories associated with it.

So sit back, and enjoy the journey "one step at a time," after all, "who knows where this road may go?" ๐Ÿ˜‰

As I mentioned in my last post, one of my favourite parts about books are the characters. Getting to know them is just like making new friends who you can love and cry over...All without actually having to socialise, or even leave your room! (Every introvert's utopia, am I right?) And as writers, we score the chance to actually create these beautiful and unique characters for our readers to relate to. 

But what are some of the ways we can make characters worth reading? I find that one of the most helpful things when you're trying to grow your own writing, is to look at other people's stories, and what they did that made you fall in love with them...To the point that you find yourself singing about them while editing your latest short story!

So, as you can tell, this post has been inspired by Anastasia, and is focusing on how backstory creates amazing characters.

I have heard someone say that backstory is when authors make excuses for their characters and hope to win the readers over with what they went through. Hopefully, if you're writing backstories right, that's not what it is at all. Others say that it's good, but it will just turn up when it turns up, and you don't need to think about it too hard. However, backstory has an effect on every part of your characters, and your story.

Backstory is the set up of your character, and story. It is what has shaped the character into who they are, and when has set the scene for you. In a sense, it's the background of your painting. The expressionist artist, Edvard Munch, probably didn't start his painting The Scream with the person, and just filled the background in later. He needed to work on the sky, the sea, and the bridge before adding the character. And this is appropriate. The painting would just look wrong if the background was a beautiful, bright meadow, wouldn't it?

In the same way, actually having a clue about your character's backstory is important before you just go and write them.


Image result for journey to the past lyrics

Characters are lovable because they have a purpose and a goal that they're striving to reach through the story. Typically, the reason behind them wanting to gain this is because they have a reason dating back to their backstory. In Anastasia, it sure is nicer to know that Dimitri is a greedy opportunist because he's an orphaned kitchen-hand who's been starving along with all of Russia for the past ten years. Despite his methods being somewhat wrong, we can understand his goal, and appreciate him for it. The backstory makes his dreams of being free and rich seem reasonable and logical...not just convenient.

When you're writing, remember that the backstory of your character is the set-up for who they are, why they are, and what they want. Without the story before the story, there is not that depth and wealth of reason behind your characters.


Which is a more interesting character: A Russian princess who has a perfectly fine life thank-you-very-much, or an orphaned, amnestic, day-dreaming long-lost Russian princess whose entire family line was murdered by an evil sorcerer? 

Not only does backstory help us understand a character, but it just makes them more interesting in general. ๐Ÿ˜‰ 

Most good characters have a 'wound' in their past. Something traumatic that happened to them. This makes them a lot easier to relate to, and to want to succeed. Without a wound, they can't grow from it. And with no growth, you probably have a boring character who just sits around eating licorice or something.

The Dangers

Unless you happen to be Victor Hugo while writing Les Misรฉrables, you probably should avoid writing about thirty years of pure backstory in great detail, taking up approximately 100 pages of your novel before you reach the actual story. 

Keep the backstory more developed in your notebook than in your story. Write out every little detail you want in a notebook, but pick and choose what goes into the actual story itself. You are not Victor Hugo. (Please tell me if you are, cos that'd be awesome!)

Find appropriate times to mention backstory. You don't need to dump it all into a prologue. Throughout your story, there will be opportunities for the ball scene in Anastasia when she recalls what happened 'Once Upon a December.' Casual comments about backstory are also nice.

Don't just use a backstory as a cop-out. Reading an annoying character who has no development is going to be a pain, and giving them a tragic backstory is probably not going to make up for how much we hate reading him. So take note that the characters still need to have something likable, not just a pitiable backstory.

So there you have it. Looking at backstory through the lense of Anastasia. I hope you all are as hyped about singing fleshing out some more backstories now!

Do you love Anastasia as much as I do? What are your thoughts on backstories?


  1. YES ANASTASIA. <333 I LOVE that movie. And thanks for all the tips and thoughts on backstories!!! :-D

  2. This post has put my lack of post to shame. ๐Ÿ˜…

    Great points! I'm going to go off and sing a bit now. xD