Every story needs some background information. You can’t write down every important thing that happens to a character as it happens. Some of it has to be an event in the past recalled in the present. Backstory is a necessity.
It's possible to have a backstory that is so fascinating you can start the story with a birth certificate and a list of schools attended, and every date and childhood trauma is of vital importance. But most backstories are not that captivating.
How would you feel if a stranger walked up to you and forced you to listen to the parts of their life they consider very interesting? Insisting, once you know me, you’ll really like me. A bit pushy? Annoying?
How would the stranger feel if you went up to them and insisted they tell you all about themselves? Claiming you saw them across the room and just had to come over and find out everything there is to know. Freaked out? Eyeing the exit?
Telling a reader what happened in a character’s childhood isn’t how you get the reader to engage with the character. Backstory is something the reader will require at some point, but there’s no point giving it to them until they need it.
Here’s some examples of what I mean:
A man wants to know all about the woman he loves after he falls in love with her.
The police want to know what kind of a person the suspect is after the crime has occurred.
A teacher wants to know what kind of family life a kid has after he comes to class covered in bruises.
Backstory will give a clearer idea of what kind of person we’re reading about, but if you put it in too soon you will end up stealing your own thunder.
It’s not the knowing of backstory that makes the character interesting. It’s being interested in the character that makes you want to know the backstory.
The problem is, the writer already finds the character interesting (that’s why they’re writing their story), so it’s easy to assume others will to. But you have to make the reader want to know more about the character without telling them what they’ve already done.
You have to do it by showing what they’re doing right now.
And if what they’re doing right now is interesting enough, then the reader will want to know more. In fact they’ll be desperate for any tidbit you throw their way. And that’s when you’ve got them right where you want them... er, I mean, that’s when you can provide a more comprehensive picture for your beloved readers.
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