If found this interesting discussion on Dramatica https://dramatica.com/questions/what-is-the-difference-between-backstory-and-background 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.
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.
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