What is Backstory
Backstory is anything that has happened in a person’s past that affects who they are today.
Ex: Growing up, it was just Mom and me. When we went on a road trip, she always stopped along the way. We checked out whatever seemed interesting, like some small, local museum or a cave. She rarely took the main road, she liked to explore back roads. She did it without a map. She didn’t know how to read them. Yet, she was never lost. She always knew right where she was.
As an adult, I love to explore. If I see a road I haven’t been on, I need to check it out to see where it goes. Consequently, I know a major amount of the roads in the cities where I live. I rarely get caught in rush hour traffic and I can out drive a GPS.
I have a girlfriend whose father liked to drive straight through the night to get where their family was headed. Her mother and two brothers would sleep in the backseat while my friend sat up front with her father. She would keep him company while he drove. It was her time alone with him. She still prefers to drive through the night.
It is details like that, that gives a charterer behavior qualities.
Bilbo Baggins of J.R.R. Tolken’s Hobbit was a product of his up past. A hobbit never, ever, under any circumstances, did anything out of the ordinary. To do so was scandalous. Therefore when Gandalf and twelve dwarfs invited Bilbo Baggins on an adventure, he resoundingly said no.
The Baggins family were so reliable and predictable that no one bothered to ask their opinion because everyone already knew what they thought. But Bilbo’s mother, Belladonna, was a Took and everyone knew the Tooks were different.
There was something un-hobbit like about them. It was rumored that one of them had married a fairy. Occasionally, a Took would discreetly disappeared and return with tails of an adventure. The family always hushed it up.
Bilbo was half Took. And it was the Took side of him that couldn’t resist accepting Gandolf’s invite.While on his adventure, Bilbo Baggins expanded his horizons. He became a thief, a warrior and a hero.
Tolken begins the book with a long explanation of who the hobbits are and who Bilbo is. All of this information is part of Bilbo’s backstory. Therefore we understand the seriousness of Bilbo traipsing after a wizard and a group of dwarfs. We expect a fun adventure for him and us.
There are somethings a character does because of their past. Not everything they do has to have a reason. And not every reason has to be told to the readers. Sometimes its enough that you know. But there are times when a good reason improves the story. There are no hard set rules. It’s up to you, your character, and the plot.
Have fun and write.