Back Story: It Does Have A Purpose In A Novel

Guest post by Deanna Proach

Some literary agents, editors and even writers believe that back story hinders a story’s development. They would rather you show, not tell. However, that is far from the truth. You cannot have a book with all show and no tell. It would read more like a play than a book. Back story, if used properly, can be a powerful tool. It is what helps you establish a deeper connection with your characters. When you have that deep connection, it will shine through and many readers will be able to make that connection as well. If you write your man character’s back story before you begin writing your novel, it will ease you into the writing of the first chapter of your novel. You most likely won’t be able to fit every bit of back story into the first chapter, though you should include the most important parts, ones that pertain to your character’s development and to the story at large.

Here are a list of things to consider when writing the back-story.

1. Character’s gender and age

2. Socioeconomic status

3. Ethnicity

4. Level of education

5. Home life

6. Personality

7. Physical appearance

8. How all of the above affects the character’s behavior and his/her relationship with other people.


When writing the back story, provide lots of description, enough to give yourself plenty of material to work with, but don’t focus on the minute detail, such as physical appearance, character’s wardrobe, what he ate last night, etc. Too much of these kinds of details will only bog down the back story and make it boring. You can weave such minor details into your back story without getting too detailed.

Here is an example of back story from my yet-to-be published novel, To be Maria.

Maria was born and raised in Madrid, Spain. Her father, Enriquez, is an electrical engineer and her mother, Teresa, is a nurse. It turns out that the CEO of Perez-Alcatraz Ingenieria knows the CEO of Altec–a world away. It so happened that Altec needed an electrical engineer to work in Peach Valley and Enriquez was the perfect candidate.

Having to pack up and leave all of her friends, grandparents and relatives behind was quite tough on Maria, especially since it is her grad year. But Maria has always been the one to embrace a new adventure. Despite the odd bout of homesickness, she has quickly accepted her new home. Canadians are so nice, and making new friends at Peach Valley Senior High has been a breeze.

Maria’s home life, though, is quite the opposite. It never measured up to her blissful high school experience. She never had a superb relationship with her parents, but since their move to Canada, it has deteriorated.

On their journey, the fifty-year-old rustic clay tea-set that has been handed down to Teresa from her mother vanished without a trace. Teresa loved that tea-set and when customs at Vancouver International Airport told her that they were unable to trace its location, she was devastated. The missing tea-pot put a huge damper on the Hernandez’s move into their new home. Maria had to deal with her mother’s rotten temper and emotional outbursts for the past two weeks. It has been nothing but pure hell.

As soon as their move was complete, Enriquez immediately set to work at his new job, working long hours five days a week. So, whenever he arrives home, he too is inclined to yell at Maria. Enriquez has always been highly critical of her and Maria could never understand why. Every time she hears the hum of her father’s SUV pull up the driveway, she braces herself for the next round of scathing, condescending reprimands.

“Maria, why can’t you be as diligent as your brother?”

“Juan is only eight for God’s sake,” she longs to tell her father.

“Maria, change your attitude! A loud mouth and a sharp tongue is not acceptable in this family! Maria, you’re grounded until you improve your grades! Maria! Maria! Maria!”

What her father constantly fails to realize is that he is the one who needs an attitude check. But no. He has to pin all of the blame for his stress on her. Maria is done with trying to please her father. She has given up years ago. Her eighteenth birthday is just four months away, the time of graduation. So, the day after graduation, she is going to search for full time work. Once she has secured a decent paying job as a server, she is going to move far enough away from home where she does not have to see or even worry about her family.

Deanna Proach is the author of two novels, Day of Revenge (Inkwater Press) and To be Maria (not yet published). She is also a freelance writer for, a company that specializes in computer sales.

Image: Simon Howden /

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