Open Book Blog Hop – January 25th – Including backstory and background

If found this interesting discussion on Dramatica describing the difference between backstory and background which is a great jumping off point for my thoughts on including these in a novel.

What is the difference between backstory and background?

The Dramatica dictionary has a definition for backstory but not for background. What is the definition for background? And what is the difference between backstory and background?

Backstory includes the events that directly lead to the “story” and its storyform. For example:

Bob’s backstory involved the loss of a child pet that made him hypersensitive to having children, pets, or any other form of personal responsibility. The story begins with the death of the Bob’s only living relative and his custody of Aunt Betty’s fifteen year old cat, Wobbles.

Background, for a character, includes the elements of his or her history and experience. Things such as family history, education, work experience, hobbies, etc. can fit into a character’s background. These may, or may not, be relevant to the character’s involvement in the story, but do help to describe how a character might be prepared for varying scenarios. For example:

Rita’s background includes being valedictorian of her class, graduating suma cum laude, and having a degree in Russian literature with a minor in Restaurant Management. She’s an Army brat and lived in thirteen different countries while growing up with her Siamese twin brothers. None of this prepared her for working at the Taco Mart.

So, the main difference between Backstory and Background is that Backstory is directly tied to the essential growth and development of the story’s storyform, while Background provides an environment within which the characters have individual, historical contexts as an aspect of the story’s storytelling.

My thoughts

In my forthcoming novel, A Ghost and His Gold, both the background and the backstory are vital to an appreciation of the actions of the ghosts and why they react as they do to each other and to the main characters, Tom and Michelle Cleveland, whose whom they are haunting.

The genre of this novel is historical paranormal and one of my main aims with this book is to share the emotions and details of the Great South African War from both a British and a Boer perspective.

The backstory of each character and their experiences in this terrible war impacted on their attitudes toward the opposing side. The book is intended to demonstrate, via this microcosmic look at the experiences of select individuals during the war, why people felt the way they did afterwards and how this helped to shape the course of South African history going forward.

The lives of the characters are entwined and their interactions with each other and other lessor characters, as well as notable events in their personal lives all drive the main circumstances of the book.

The backgrounds of each character are important and are also woven into the book as they impact on how the characters have developed, their personal attitudes towards their governments, the opposition, their own people, and their relationships. Each characters background and upbringing also influences the way they think about, and react to, certain circumstances and information provided to them through discussion with peers, other members of their societies, leadership figures, and even propaganda.

I have used various tools to weave all of this in including flashback to the past, dialogue, and Robert, the British soldier’s, diary.

I have endeavoured to keep the backstory and background interesting and relevant and ended up cutting out chunks of information (which I found very interesting) but which were not important to the story or the attitudes and behaviour of the characters.

How do you deal with backstory and background? Tell me in the comments.

How do other blog-hoppers deal with backstory? Click on the link below to find out.


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38 thoughts on “Open Book Blog Hop – January 25th – Including backstory and background

  1. These are important things to remember, Robbie.
    I know what you mean about cutting interesting content. The rule I try to follow is “Does it move the story forward?” I try to keep that answer at “yes.”

    Although… I’ve asked alpha/beta readers about passages that I was reluctant to remove (because they didn’t really move the story forward), and they said no — I should keep that. So I tried to find a compromise.
    I guess my opinion is that it depends on the story. I’m really looking forward to your book. It’s going to be spectacular. Hugs on the wing.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Sounds interesting.
    I have tried flashbacks and diary excerpts, as well as people discussing the history, both formally (“telling stories”) and informally (just part of general discussion). I have tried to get as much in the context, but for complicated history that occurred over 100 years ago, that’s difficult! Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading “A Ghost and His Gold”!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ll admit that my big problem is that I often start with huge data-dumps and have to figure out how to fix them. A lot of classic (i.e., 19th century) fiction used data-dumps, but today it is frowned on.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This post clearly shows the difference between backstory and background. I appreciate you sharing. I like to scatter bits and pieces of backstory throughout the unfolding of the story. Background comes out in actions, ways of communicating, beliefs etc. Great post, Robbie! Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The worst way to slow a story down is by info-dumping a person’s background. It’s better to do as Jan says above show it through gestures and dialogue.
    I think, especially with a series, some backstory needs to be peppered in fairly early in the book to give context to the story- just be careful how much!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. An interesting distinction, Robbie. I can imagine that any historical fiction requires some of both to add relevance to the current events and choices. I provide less backstory and background than I did in my earlier writing days, introducing it only as needed to back up a choice or action. And I agree with all the comments about info dumps. They can stop a story in it’s track. Much better to weave it in. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s a great point and useful information. The difference between background and backstory is important in the way it’s treated and presented to the reader. Very often, I find that it suggests itself on the fly, when justification is needed for a certain course of action by one of my characters.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This is something I’ve not given much thought to until now – I do know that I don’t like books where I feel the author is cramming info in about the character because it feels too much like “telling” mode.

    Liked by 1 person

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