One of the ways we make a character come alive and seem real is to provide that character with a backstory—a history or background. What we don’t want to do is drop too much of the backstory on the reader at any given time and most particularly at the beginning. Too much too soon bores the reader and trivializes the story. Dropping tantalizing bits and pieces whets the appetite of the reader.
One thing to recognize is that you don’t have to be writing mystery fiction for a bit of mystery to be worked into the story. You do want to weave backstory in a subtle manner so you keep your reader’s interest and attention. Backstory also provides motivation as well as sympathy for the character.
It’s crucial for the writer to really know the character completely. For this reason, I always write a character bible which includes all the key characters’ descriptions and details of their lives. Only significant parts of this information will appear in the actual story.
For example, in my latest novel, DEATH PROMISE, we learn the real reason why Michelle Hallam refuses to commit to Daniel Reiner and why Daniel decided to become a psychiatrist. Their personalities have much to do with their unique backgrounds.
Backstory is only one aspect of character development, but it can be used successfully to connect the reader with the character on an emotional level. I’ll end with the following:
According to Writers Digest, “including too much of it (backstory) too soon can halt your story’s momentum. A good storyteller has no trouble thinking up rich histories for his or her characters. But a good novelist holds these details back, revealing them only at the time that best serves the story.”
Your opinion and comments most welcome!