A Pirate's Resources

Exercise 8 :: Backstory :: Let me tell you about Why or When ...

How often does something happen to your student, and they get upset, and the way you help diffuse the situation is to explain what happened before that helps give a reason for what is happening now. I know that this feels like a surprise, but when you didn’t get your work done earlier, it meant that we couldn’t go to the movies tonight. Or you use what is happening right now to explain why something good is going to happen in the future. Because you are doing a good job getting your work done right now, we are going to be able to go to the movies tonight.

These are instances of the power of backstory. Backstory is the string of events that happened
before, that lead to what is happening now, either in a character or in the story world itself. Everything has a reason why it is the way it is, and backstory provides that reason. FYI, it is closely related to plot (which is still 15 exercises away, so you’ll want to refer back to this), in that it is a series of actions. These are just actions that happen before the thing that is currently happening. It might happen before the story takes place, or it might just have happened before the part of the story the reader is currently in. It’s a fun game to see the string of events that led to this moment. Knowing a backstory can help us understand why what is happening now is happening. As an author, backstory gives our characters and the story world depth and meaning. It can explain why our character is doing what they are doing, behaving the way they are behaving.

In Real Life :: This is a powerful tool in the writers tool belt, and in real life as well. Just as it explains a characters behavior, we can help our children understand why a real someone behaves the way they do by explaining their backstory. It can give us a context for giving grace, or understanding how and why something extraordinary happened. Next time your child is hurt by something, once they are calm and recovered, encourage them to ask “what happened before that happened?” (It’s not a bad parenting technique too. I remember reading an article once that encouraged mother to ask, when her two kids came yelling about how one hit the other, “and what happened right before he hit you?” This was not to excuse hitting, but to help both sides understand what motivated the behavior on both parts.) When they get a bad grade, they can look to the backstory to understand why, and hopefully not repeat those actions. Conversely, when they do something very well, they can look back to see what steps led to a positive outcome, and seek to repeat that. Backstory, in real life, is full of life lessons!

Finding it in the story :: First Mate does a good job of demonstrating a backstory on pg 81, but you can also find backstories throughout the chapter on pg 76 - for the monkey slaves, and even for the captain. Norman Nopants’ story will be coming up soon!