Back Story: Why is it Important?

back story

What is a back story and why is it important?

Many authors are excited to get into the nuts and bolts of the story and often skip this very important step. I would argue it’s more important sometimes than others.

If you are writing a nonfiction, back story doesn’t really come into play. If you are writing a series, keeping track of your character’s traits from one book to the next is extremely important. Even in a single novel, the characters will feel more real when they have a background that is driving their actions and responses.

The background of the character may never explicitly come up in your book, but their response to action in your plot will depend very much on how they were “raised.” The way a person reacts to a given scenario may change depending on if they were an only child versus in a house with eleven siblings. Their priorities may be different if they were raised in a wealthy home versus homeless.

Logging the Back Story

Some people use note cards to keep track of important aspects of a character’s life. Others have files on their computer. Whatever works best for you, as long as you are tracking. You may want to start with fill-in-the-blank questions such as age, hair color, height, marital status, siblings, etc. But then expand a bit into more defining characteristics. What is their weakness? Bad habits? No one is perfect. What gets your character angry? Who is their best friend and why? Who do they tell all their secrets? Do they have a secret crush? Why is it a secret?

When scenarios come up, you need to make sure your character is acting appropriately based on the back story you have built. If they have a secret crush, perhaps they get uncomfortable or nervous around them. Do they look them in the eye or avoid contact with the person?

If you aren’t an artist, you may want to look though magazines and find someone who looks like your character. Paste the picture alongside your notes so you get a vision in your head when you are writing about the character. If you are an artist, draw yourself a picture and post it proudly with your notes.

Lady Tigers

For the Lady Tigers series, author Paige Brotherton used softball cards to tell the backstory for each player. You can find them on The girls tell you little things about themselves you won’t necessarily read about in one of the books, like their favorite ice cream flavor or what they want to be when they grow up.

How are you going to keep track of your Back Story?