Tip 54: How to Write a Believable Backstory

Having characters that relate to readers is the most riveting attribute that most readers are looking for. Reading about the not so perfect and human like characters is another characteristic that authors should incorporate in their writing. 

I enjoy reading about characters that resembles me physically, to include race and culture. Which is something that’s as minor as the minority status I fill in a job application. But that’s a topic for another ranting post.

A lot of books that I have read usually have chapters of backstory or flashbacks so that readers can learn about the characters. But often times these type of books kind of seem like the author wanted to fulfill a word count because the backstory kind of doesn’t fit within the story. I sometimes feel like I’m reading about the character at work as one person and then when they get to their personal life it’s like an Instagram snippet of their life that they gloss over for social media as an oh by the way moment.

I learned through my betas that readers of certain genres don’t necessarily want to read about a few chapters of flashback where that flashback could’ve been explained or described in a few simple sentences or paragraphs.

Here are 5 tips that helped me incorporate backstory in a creative way. Below I used several examples from my psychological thriller Guilty Photographs.

1. LIST THEIR ATTRIBUTES

What helped me was to have a list of all the characters that will be included in my book. I had a list of characteristics that made them who they are. Some of the characteristics that I used and labeled each character with each one were: witty, smart, quirky, loving, talkative, gossiper, scholar, techy, strong, quiet, childish, annoying, wary, etc. Then I described the person physically as: tall, short, fat, skinny, muscled, slim, skin color, hair color and texture, eye, lip, nose, and ear shape.

 

2. LIFE-LIKE FEATURES

You got to give your characters life-like characteristics so you can picture them as they move about your story and interact with other characters. This will help you in giving them life and you can picture their movement and mannerism as if they were a real person. 

photo of women looking serious
Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

3. MIMIC REAL PEOPLE

Another great way to give your characters life is to mimic a characteristic from a person that you know. For example, if you want to create a character that’s selfish and self-centered, it is easy to identify those features of someone you interact with and jot down the traits that makes you think that person is self-centered and then connect them to your character. It works best if you apply examples to those traits so that when you write your character it will be easy to refer back to an example rather than to just a list. It is also helpful as you can incorporate that example into your story for a quick back story as your MC is encountering said person or the narrator is describing that person.

 

4. INTRODUCE WITH AN EXAMPLE STORY

When Lori, Barbara’s best friend is introduced in the first chapter, she’s technically not a participating character. Barbara is actually processing her life and her situation at the time and although she’s not dwelling on her situation she is trying to cope with the way her life was at the present moment and how she needed to improve her situation and mend her friendship. Therefore, we learn about Lori through a quick reference in Barbara’s life and when Lori is formally introduce in another chapter readers already knew about her and her importance in Barbara’s life.

person holding book
Photo by fotografierende on Pexels.com

5. EVERY ENCOUNTER THROUGHOUT THE BOOK

If you’re writing about a recurring character or about the MC then that character should have a quick backstory in each chapter they appear, especially if its relevant to the scene and at the same time have that backstory tie in to the scene.

For example, McKinley is investigating a murder and while he’s looking at the mugshot of a suspect, that prompted him to have a flashback about the first time he saw his father’s mugshot. This flashback was a few paragraphs long and it explained another side to McKinley that readers have not experienced.

If you have more tips on this please comment below. Hit the like button if you liked the tips mentioned.

Happy writing.

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