The Power of Backstory Revelance

In Creative Writing, Guest Articles by RWA Blog Coordinator1 Comment

With Author Sandy Vaile

Creating compelling backstory is essential for developing rich well-rounded characters that capture the interests of readers. But it needs to be relevant to the story you are writing to be effective.

The wrong backstory can turn into an information dump or irrelevant information, which slows a story’s pace to a yawn and disengages readers.

Backstory is there to support the main plot and add dimension to characters; therefore, it needs to be relevant to the entire story, as well as what’s going on when it’s delivered.

Make Backstory Relevant to the Character

When thinking about your character’s backstory, think in terms of what will motivate them to want the story goal, i.e. what circumstances in their life created this desire? Equally important is what caused their internal struggle, i.e. a past event that has tainted their beliefs around this desire.

It can be incredibly useful to write a past event that caused the false belief (or wound or fear) they’ll struggle with during this story. Writing it in full enables you to use pieces of it in flashbacks and helps readers feel all the emotions associated with it.

Make Backstory Relevant to the Plot

To make backstory relevant to the plot, consider how a character’s worldviews and beliefs will both drive them through the story towards their goal, and create difficulties for them by challenging what they believe and/or how they go about getting it.

Make Backstory Relevant to the Scene

Backstory relevance is also critical when placing it within a scene. You don’t want to dump it in any old place, but think about which pieces of backstory will support what’s happening or being said in the story.
You can even create relevance by deliberately having something happen in the story that will naturally lead into thoughts about the character’s past.

What Makes Backstory Relevant?

Here are some simple checks you can do. Backstory is relevant when:

  • It sheds light on why a character behaves a certain way or has a particular opinion.
  • It adds to the information readers already know about the present situation.
  • It enhances the conflict by having a character’s beliefs and fears make a situation more difficult.
  • It is triggered by what is going on in the story, e.g. seeing or smelling something familiar.
  • It provides historic details about a place or society.

When backstory interacts with the present events, it creates relevance that provides context and depth to the main plot, and draws readers into the characters’ lives.

If you are ready to develop relevant backstory for your characters, and then make sure you are delivering it in an interesting way that drives your story rather than stalling it, grab a place in the wildly popular Write Backstory With Confidence workshop , starting on 3rd April.

Write Backstory with Confidence course with Sandy Vaile

You can access the course through the RWA Academy here: Write Backstory with Confidence or click on the image below.

RWA Academy Short Course


Author Sandy Vaile

Sandy Vaile is an internationally published author with decades of experience in the ficiton industry. She supports aspiring authors to write novels they are proud to share with the world (and which get noticed by agents, publishers and readers) through coaching, courses and developmental editing.

Sandy prides herself on providing a nurturing workshop environment where participants can truly absorb the material and apply it to their own work.

In her spare time, Sandy is a motorbike-riding daredevil with a sense of adventure, who is lucky enough to live in the McLaren Vale wine region, so there are plenty of excuses for cheese platters and bubbles.
Connect with Sandy Vaile on her website or social media.


  1. I’m so looking forward to chatting with authors about this often misunderstood subject.
    Backstory has such a lot of power over our characters, so we don’t want to waste opportunities to use it to drive the plot forwards and help readers sympathise with our characters.

    See you all soon!

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