Why Every Story Needs a Past – Unveiling the Power of Backstories.

Let’s talk a bit about backstories. I mean it’s called BACKstory and readers want the STORY. So why do we need it?

First, let’s define what is a backstory.  A backstory is basically the history of a character, setting, or plot that comes before the story’s main events. It’s like the secret sauce that adds depth and flavour to your narrative.

So, why do we need backstories? Well, they do a bunch of awesome things:

Here are 7 Reasons to Have a Backstory:

#1: Character Development,
A well-crafted backstory breathes life into characters, giving them depth and complexity. By revealing their past experiences, motivations, and traumas, you create multi-dimensional individuals that audiences can connect with. 

Take the character of Severus Snape in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series. Snape’s backstory, including his unrequited love for Lily Potter, adds layers of complexity to his actions throughout the series, making him one of the most intriguing and memorable characters.

Or  “Forrest Gump,” the titular character’s backstory reveals his struggles with a learning disability and the influence of his loving mother. These elements shape Forrest’s kind-hearted nature and unwavering optimism throughout the film.

#2: Enhancing Plot.
A compelling backstory can provide the necessary context to drive the main plot forward. They are like roadmaps for your plot. They give you the backstory (pun intended!) on conflicts, motivations, and key events.

Knowing where characters come from can drive the story forward with purpose and direction. It’s like having a GPS for storytelling.

In my own novel, “Things We Do For Love” the backstory of Verity explains why she was so determined to have her own daughters following the academic path and not what they wanted to do.

Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” skillfully weaves a complex narrative, where the backstory of Cobb’s guilt and loss drives his actions and decisions throughout the film. The backstory’s revelation not only creates suspense but also shapes the direction of the story, making it more engaging and impactful.

#3: Emotional Connection.
Backstories tug at our heartstrings. When we learn about the struggles, successes, or heartbreaks a character has gone through, it creates an emotional bond. We root for them, we cry with them, and we celebrate their victories. It’s like cheering on your favourite sports team – you’re emotionally invested!

In Disney-Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” opens with a heartbreaking backstory where Nemo’s mother and siblings are tragically killed, leaving Marlin as the overprotective father. This emotional setup establishes a powerful connection with Marlin’s determination to find his son.

In Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner,” the backstory of Amir and Hassan’s childhood friendship in Afghanistan builds a strong emotional connection. As readers witness their shared experiences and eventual separation, they become deeply invested in the characters’ journeys and their reconciliation.

#4: World-Building.
In many fantasy and science fiction works, world-building is crucial for immersing audiences in a fictional universe. A rich backstory allows authors and filmmakers to create vibrant and believable worlds.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” series feature extensive backstories that establish the history, races, and geography of Middle-earth.

These rich backstories create a vivid and immersive world for the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and Frodo Baggins.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe masterfully employs backstories to build its expansive world. Films like “Iron Man” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” delve into the backstories of their respective superheroes, providing the foundation for the interconnected universe.

#5 – Foreshadowing and Plot Twists.
Backstories can be sneaky little devils. They drop hints and clues about what’s to come, building suspense and surprise. It’s like leaving breadcrumbs for your audience to follow, only to shock them with unexpected twists and turns.

Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” presents a group of strangers invited to an island, and through individual backstories, hints and clues are dropped about their dark secrets. These backstories foreshadow the impending mystery and add layers of suspense.

In Quentin Tarantino’s classic movie  “Pulp Fiction,” the nonlinear storytelling approach incorporates various character backstories that intersect and foreshadow unexpected connections and plot twists.

#6: Exploring Themes.
A backstory can provide an opportunity to explore deeper thematic elements within your story. By delving into the past experiences and events that shape a character or a world, backstories can provide a platform for addressing and exploring deeper themes and messages

Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” delves into the dystopian world of Gilead, but it is through the protagonist’s backstory, Offred’s previous life, relationships, and loss, that the themes of identity, freedom, and feminism are fully explored. The backstory adds layers of meaning to the narrative, elevating it beyond a simple dystopian tale.

In the film “Life is Beautiful” directed by Roberto Benigni, the backstory of Guido, a Jewish man, and his experiences during the Holocaust explores themes of love, resilience, and the power of imagination in the face of unimaginable tragedy. The backstory sets the stage for a heart wrenching exploration of humanity’s capacity for hope and survival.

#7: Plausibility and Authenticity.
A good backstory makes your story believable. It connects the dots and makes everything feel consistent and authentic.

Readers or viewers can follow along and say, “Yeah, that makes sense!” It’s like having a solid foundation for your storytelling.

In J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” the backstory of the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, gives readers insight into his troubled upbringing and the emotional turmoil he experiences. This backstory adds authenticity and plausibility to his rebellious and disillusioned behaviour.

In “Silver Linings Playbook,” the main characters’ backstories, including their struggles with mental health, provide a realistic context for their complex personalities and the challenges they face in their relationships.

In Conclusion –   Backstories are like the secret sauce that adds flavour and depth to your storytelling. They make your characters more real, your world more believable, and your plot more captivating. So, go ahead and dive into the exciting world of backstories. Your readers or viewers will thank you for it!

Now it’s YOUR turn – What is your favourite example of a well-crafted backstory in a book or movie? How did it enhance your connection with the characters or the story?

Would love to get your input in the comment box below.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top