60 Second Advice by Anne Brees
Backstory is essential because it helps your readers understand your characters. While not all personality traits are caused by something in a person’s past, most of people’s behavior can be explained by their past. A character whose parents had a messy divorce might be wary about love. A character whose sibling died young might be scared to get close to people.
However, when do you tell the reader about the backstory? You can’t spend too much time in the past or else your plot will be lost. Flashbacks are never a great choice, because it’s too easy for a flashback to stretch for chapters. Plus, they can be confusing to the reader whether they are in the present or past.
The best way to tell backstories is in small quantities, spread out throughout your story. This can also add to the suspense of your story and keep your reader reading, as they look forward to finding out the tragic backstory. Maybe your character meets an old friend and as they talk, you can hint at the past. Maybe something similar to what happened in the past happens to your character, and they revel in the déjà vu. Maybe they meet a new friend, and have to tell the story of their past.
Also, not every character needs a tragic backstory. People can be brave or broken without something horrible or amazing happening.
No matter how you tell your backstory, remember that your reader is intelligent. You don’t have to spell out every single event of their childhood. Your reader can connect the dots. Focus on the present of the story, and only mention the past.