B is for Backstory

What exactly is backstory? How does the dictionary define it?

A narrative providing a history or background context, especially for a character or situation in a literary work, film, or dramatic series.

The experiences of a character or the circumstances of an event that occur before the action or narrative.

As an author it is something I'm very aware of. My first novel, Resolutions, had an event, which had happened prior to the story started, and was the reason there was a story at all.

However, I didn't just jump in and tell the reader what had happened twelve months before. This came out slowly, in the early chapters, and mainly through the dialogue of some characters e.g.

Mrs. Williams’ eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. "Well, well, so you’ve finally returned. I never thought you'd dare to show your face again here, especially at this time of year.”

Hopefully at this point the reader will want to continue reading, wondering 'What has Carly done?'

If I'd let 'the cat out of the bag' at this point, there would be little point in reading on! Also if all the backstory is given early on, as an 'info dump', this can be boring and tedious to read.

In the next chapter we have a clue as to what has happened from another character, whom Carly visits:

“Don’t expect too much from him. Seeing you will come as quite a shock. He’s spent the last twelve months working hard to put you out of his mind and out of his life. He may not want you back. I don’t think you’ll find that Yeardon and New Yeardon are the same places you used to know.”

Have I got you intrigued? I hope so! Would you like to know what Carly has done that has caused so much anguish? Let Steve, her ex- fiancé, tell you:

“New Year’s Eve would have been our first wedding anniversary. It seemed a good time to try to say sorry.” She moved towards him. “I’m really sorry for what I did.”
Steve’s arms widened to grip the sides of the car as he stared down at the engine. “Sorry? Sorry for leaving me standing at the altar like an idiot? Sorry for disappearing without a word? What exactly are you sorry for?”

It's far better to keep the reader guessing and wanting to learn more.

Later on we learn that the hero, Ben, also has a secret in his past. However if you want to know what that is, you'll have to read the book!


  1. Some good examples there of how to tease the reader by introducing the back story bit by bit.

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  3. I think the temptation is to add too much back story, and too do it too soon. Just like when we meet real people we don't learn everything about them immediately – some things take years to discover and some things are never revealed.


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