Lack of backstories: bad?
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Thread: Lack of backstories: bad?

  1. #1

    Default Lack of backstories: bad?

    On the Dragon Ball forum, Kanzenshuu, I made this thread here to discuss how Dragon Ball as the Granddaddy of almost every Shonen series has little detailed backstories in comparison to the likes of One Piece and Naruto and if it was a strength or weakness of the series. The response were interesting and I'd like to apply this subject to fiction in general. I've been insecure about my characters being scrutinized for not having such but now I wonder...

    Click the link to see the thread and tell my your thoughts of the subject in general here. Don't worry about being a Dragon Ball fan or not.

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    Default Re: Lack of backstories: bad?

    It's a good idea for you as the author to know characters' backstories, so you have an easier time depicting their motivations and such. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to tell the reader everything, though.

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    Default Re: Lack of backstories: bad?

    The past always effects the future. Your character can have no presented back story, but their actions lead the reader to imagine what could have lead your character to making such a decision.

    In Injustice: Gods Among Us Superman breaks into one of Batmans interrogations of the Joker and kills the Joker with his bare hands. At this time we're given a reason why, but when I saw the scene the first time I had no idea why Superman killed the Joker. I knew the characters, I knew this was an alternate timeline, but this was all I needed to know to get really interested in the story despite hating Supermans character in general.

    Back story can be presented at any time, but you spoil the surprise if you lay it all on the table at once.
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    Default Re: Lack of backstories: bad?

    Lack of backstory can add some mystery, but can also help see sense.

    I'd say use it in moderation, and try and lay it in naturally rather than spoonfeeding it to the users.

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    Registered User harryheart's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Lack of backstories: bad?

    Definitely naturally! It's been said a lot, but if it's not natural it can make the whole story feel jerky and lumpy rather than having a natural flow! (Unless you're going for that desired effect with your writing - which depends on context etc.) Generally, having things appear that are crucial to the story, or information revealed, is the way to go with a natural progression, and tends to happen anyway as characters grow regardless of whether the writer consciously intends for every reader to know this particular detail. It may just simply be the way the story naturally progresses.
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    Default Re: Lack of backstories: bad?

    You should at least have a clear general idea of what your characters' pasts are. However, as you write they will tend to flesh themselves out, so it's OK not to have every little detail worked out.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Lack of backstories: bad?

    with me I'm planning to reveal details about my Main Characters backstories and personality as the story comes along. infact my first chapter already revealed why my main charaters were raised by a single parent, and also alluded to something that will be a plot point to future chapters

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    Default Re: Lack of backstories: bad?

    A lack of backstory is fine...

    To a point. Your main protagonist, possibly their True Companions, and your villain (if you have one) all should have backstory. It adds another dimension to their character, and lets them have their own inner demons to confront.

    Don't go overboard with it, though. Your major characters need backstory, but that doesn't mean that you need to give the pizza guy a deep and tragic past unless he's secretly the main character's lightsaber-ninjitsu master that plays a major role in the story.

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    Your mind is a world AetherX's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Lack of backstories: bad?

    I think that every single character needs some kind of backstory, no exceptions. Even if it's just a basic list of the important events in their life, who their parents are, where they were born, how they were raised. It will make your characters so much deeper and more relatable.

    What you don't have to do is actually reference that backstory in your writing.

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    Default Re: Lack of backstories: bad?

    Agreeing... within reason. I keep Excel spreadsheets with information on the most important half-dozen to dozen characters in any story I write. Those contain information that could be roughly described as 'backstory,' along with samples of dialogue, personality information, and a rough overview of their plot importance. I don't think it's necessary to have information on characters of relatively minor importance, but I think that it can help. While most (or all) of the information you write on the aforementioned Pizza Man may be pointless, it could slightly change his role in the story or the nature of his dialogue. It might even convince you to elevate his importance because you discover a genuinely interesting character who could add to the story. The converse can also be true; I've found that by mapping out the backstory of some moderately important characters that they genuinely weren't interesting or valuable enough to justify their screen time. This usually led to them getting cut, reduced in importance, or revamped into a more interesting character. At other points the Excel sheets have saved me from having to retcon later by making me establish where I want to go with a character up front.

    In short, I don't think that readers need to know backstories at all, and certainly not for the minor characters. But I've found that having a back story for all characters for the writer's eyes only can drastically improve the quality of a story.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Lack of backstories: bad?

    Echoing what everyone else said, readers don't need to know backstory until it becomes important for them to know, if it ever does. However, the author really should. I find it a lot easier to write biographies of characters than actual story, to be honest. For years, that's all I did, just pages and pages of back story. Now, though, some of those pages are going to come in handy in my story, in informing the behavior and voice of some of my characters.
    The problem with not having back story in mind when writing characters is that, unless they were born yesterday, it will be assumed the character has a past. The story opens a window on the character at a particular time, but part of the conceit of believing, at least while reading, that you are following the story of an actual character is feeling they existed prior to the beginning of the story, and unless they die within its course, will exist afterwards. I have read bad stories where the main character interacts with his family and friends as if he or she barely knows them. There's usually a good reason behind it, that the author fears the reader won't understand the relationships unless they're spelled out, but in doing so they make things seem quite strange. It is actually better for a story for the author to reveal as little as is necessary in the beginning, while not having the character be a complete cipher.

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