Story by MountainbreadToday is Saturday, and Saturday at the Write Practice is a day of rule breaking. Rules are for standardized tests and stodgy teachers. Writers who want to create powerful art break rules.

On Monday we talked about backstory and why you should remove it from your story. You really should. Backstory is boring.

However, rules are rules, and the rule is that on Saturdays, we break rules (isn’t that a fun rule?).

What is backstory?

Backstory is the history of a character, the events that led up to your narrative.

There are two kinds: the good kind and the bad kind.

You know how sometimes a character in a novel falls asleep and dreams about an event earlier in their life that somehow perfectly relates to the story? While the dream sequence itself is cliche, that kind of backstory is the good kind of backstory.

It’s good because it perfectly relates to the story.

The bad kind is when the narrator decides she needs to tell you about the coffee she had before breakfast and the mundane conversation she had with her neighbor and what kind of dog she has and how it likes to jump on her lap when she’s trying to solve the murder.

It’s bad because it’s irrelevant to your story.

It’s fun to write, though. We writers like to build worlds. We like to make up characters and see how they interact with each other. On Monday I said, “Backstory is like going on a coffee date with your character.”

Who doesn’t like a good coffee date?

It’s helpful for you to know your characters’ backstories so you can understand what they’re going to do in the future.

Backstory, then, is bad for readers but good for the writer.


Let’s write some backstory for a character you probably already know:

Phil Dumfy.

Phil is the dad on Modern Family. If you haven’t see the show, I feel bad for you. It’s hilarious. There’s a brief clip below if you’d like to catch up.

For fifteen minutes, write about Phil’s high school experience. Who did he hang out with? What crazy things did he do? Was he popular or shunned? Did he have many girlfriends?

Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting
Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).