Posted by: nancycurteman | November 28, 2017

Backstory Should Move a Plot Forward, Not Backward

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As authors, we know backstory is essential to good characterization. We also know we need to keep our stories moving toward a climax and solution. Managing these two goals is sometimes difficult. Backstory should move our novel plots forward, not backward. This seems a bit like an oxymoron, but it can be done. As authors we need to consider the following:

What is backstory? Backstory relates to events that have happened before the novel begins.

Why is backstory necessary? Backstory is necessary to explain why a character has a specific motivation or mindset. Backstory can strengthen a reader’s emotional connection with a character. It can establish setting as well.

How do we know when we need to insert backstory into our novel and how much? If it’s essential to our plot, we need it. Insert no more backstory than is absolutely necessary to make characters and plot understandable.

How can we unobtrusively insert backstory into our story?
• Write backstory without leaving a novel’s present time.
• Backstory must always be related to the action in the scene.
• Make sure it exerts an active influence on characters and plot. If a character is terrified of heights, don’t write a backstory about her favorite toy.
• Keep backstory inserts as short as possible.
• Resist hopping back and forth between the past and the present.
• Sneak backstory in as character memory, overheard conversations, chance encounters, old photos or letters, scents, sights and tastes. Think about experiences that bring back past memories.
• Use a person or attitude to create a reason for adding backstory.
• Use some flashbacks and character musings in which to couch backstory.
• Use dialogue rather than narration when possible.
• Spread backstory throughout the novel. Don’t dump it all into the first chapter. Reveal backstory only at the time that best serves the story.

By using their natural creativity, authors can use backstory to move novel plots forward, not backward.

More Tips:

Backstory: 10 things a Mystery Writer Should Know

4 Killer Backstory Mistakes Mystery Authors Make


  1. Finally, real advice instead of didn’t put much, blah, blah, it’s frustrating. (I have so little in it I’m getting complaints about not enough!


    • Robin, Thank you for your comment. Can you say a bit more about “instead of didn’t put much, blah, blah, it’s frustrating. (I have so little in it I’m getting complaints about not enough!”


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