How Much Backstory is Too Much?

Backstory. The story before the story.

Every character has it – but how much do you need of it?

There are TONS of stuff on developing characters backgrounds….I am to divide character backstory into two schools of thought:

What the readers needs

What the writer needs

We’ll start with what the Reader needs.

backstory reader


Writers can spend all the livelong day (and some did: I’m looking at you Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo) writing every little detail of a setting, a characters life or background, or the uninteresting life of a certain tree.

Readers in the 19th century had patience for this, but not really anymore. So.

CUT IT OUT. The reader needs to know two things: things that are relevant and things that enhance the story.

So, when including backstory in your book, decide if it is relevant to anything, or enhances anything.

backstory writer


How much does the writer need to know?

UM – that’s completely up to the individual.

Some writers swear up and down by digging deep into the backstory of their character. Characters questionnaires, myer-briggs, even writing scenes or a “prequel” for your character.

*shrugs* whatever you want to do.

My main things is still: what is relevant? What is relevant to the story, and what is relevant to the character?

I’m not really much help here, but that’s how I work. I only dig into my character as far as is necessary. Aaron Sorkin once said: write characters not people.

If we had to write people, we’d have to dig into every little inch of their lives, which is both nearly impossible and exhausting. (That being said, sometimes the character’s backstory IS the story. Such as they have amnesia and are piecing together their past. Again, what’s relevant?)

What is relevant? The question to ask yourself

border for blog

any thoughts bbb



One response to “How Much Backstory is Too Much?”

  1. I just finished reading the first book of a series that was all backstory and world building. It was interesting but way more than I needed. It could have been cut back to a couple of chapters sprinkled into the actual story. Needless to say, I won’t be reading the rest of the series.


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