Writing Tips — Backstory

Giulietta M Spudich
2 min readJan 24, 2024

In my young writers’ workshop this week, we looked at the simple but deep concept of backstory.

What is the character’s past? What happened to them before the story began?

Inventing backstory helps us create three-dimensional, real-seeming characters with history.

Once we know a character’s backstory, how do we convey their past through our writing? The danger is writing a long section of exposition telling, not showing, the reader about the past. In truth, sometimes only very little needs to be conveyed for the reader to put the whole picture together.

We looked at three ways of showing backstory.

Conversation (or dialogue)— have two characters discuss an event in their past, with their particular take on it. This also reveals how both characters were affected, conveying more about their personalities.

A letter or diary entry — here we can write, from the character’s point of view, what happened in the past as if it just happened. Again this includes the character’s reactions, thoughts and feelings. Maybe even plans, plans that feed the plot.

Flashback — perhaps the character sees something that reminds them of the past event. Once again they are ‘back there’. Flashback can be used to, bit by bit, reveal different pieces to the puzzle of the past.

Mine, a regular at Story Club, decided to use a letter to convey the backstory of her villain. I found this quite artful since, in the story, the protagonist read the letter written by her own enemy. The younger villain was desperate, hating her life in an orphanage. She was pleading, in the letter, to please help her. I felt great empathy for the villain even though in the story she does terrible things.

How will the protagonist react differently to the villain now that she knows her past? This was a nice mystery set up in the scene.

I invite you to enjoy creating character backstory. The longer I write stories, the more I ponder characters’ pasts. I sometimes sketch them throughout their lives, write diary entries from their perspectives, and think about events that really rocked or changed them. I find that when I know my character well when I start to write, the story flows more easily. And backstory creeps in to the writing, a little bit, just enough to tantalise the reader.



Giulietta M Spudich

I am a children’s author and young writers' workshop leader. Give me a young/teen fantasy novel and a cup of coffee. Magic. www.elementgirls.org