Want to Take Your Horror Novel to the Next Level? Learn These 12 Dos and Don'ts of Revealing Critical Backstory! #WritingTips #NovelWriting #CharacterDevelopment

Hey there, fellow horror writers! Today, I want to talk about something that can make or break a novel - revealing critical backstory. Backstory is an essential part of character development, and it can add layers of depth to your story. But, it can also be a tricky balance to strike. So, here are my 12 dos and don'ts of revealing critical backstory in a novel.


  1. Start with the present: It's important to focus on the present before diving into the past. Make sure the backstory serves the story, not the other way around. Never start a story with backstory. The only way I've seen a book start with back story successfully was using backstory in the prologue.
  2. Reveal backstory through action: Show, don't tell. Use dialogue, flashbacks, and memories to reveal backstory instead of giving a straightforward summary. Exposition is boring to read. Don't bore your reader.
  3. Keep it relevant: The backstory should relate to the plot or the character's motivation. If your backstory does not move those two things forward, cut it. You don't need it. I know how proud you are of the world building and history you've created, but most of that information is for you not the reader.
  4. Use flashbacks sparingly: Too many flashbacks can disrupt the flow of the story and slow the pace. Nothing is more annoying when characters are talking, then one of them gets stuck in a flashback or memory. Pages can go by before they respond again. As a reader, I tend to skip writing like that and only read the dialog.
  5. Build suspense: Reveal backstory slowly to keep the reader engaged. Only reveal what is needed when it is needed, not all at once. Information dumps are boring and will not keep your reader reading if your work is full of them.
  6. Keep it concise: Don't go into too much detail, keep it relevant and to the point. A few sentences will do, not paragraphs or pages.
  7. Make it emotional: Backstory can be a powerful tool to create an emotional connection between the reader and the character.
  8. Use it to create conflict: The main character's incorrect belief from their backstory is a great way to create tension with other characters without even mentioning backstory.
  9. Use multiple characters' backstories: Use backstory to create connections between characters or like above, conflict.
  10. Do use backstory: From all the comments above you might decide not to use backstory at all. Backstory can bring your reader closer to the main character as long as it is not overused bogging down the story. 
  11. Keep it consistent: Make sure the backstory is consistent with the character's actions and motivations.
  12. DON'T:
  1. Dump backstory: Don't give a long, boring summary of the character's backstory. Exposition is the most boring writing to read. There is no action or emotion in it. Your reader will be so far away from your story they will stop reading it.
  2. Reveal it too early: Wait until the reader is invested in the character before revealing their backstory. Pick a time when the backstory will matter to the plot and move the story forward. Don't shove it all in the first chapter.
  3. Make it predictable: Avoid clichés and predictable storylines. How can you make your character's past different?
  4. Use it as a crutch: Don't rely on the backstory to explain the character's actions or motivations.
  5. Make it too complex: Keep it simple and easy to understand. If the backstory is complicated only bring up parts of it as they are needed.
  6. Create backstory that is unimportant: It must move the plot forward or reveal something important about the character. A memory about a paper cut that does not move the plot forward will bore the reader and confuse them. The reader will write reviews saying what was the point of that paper cut? That story was neve resolved.
  7. Use it to justify bad behavior: Backstory can explain behavior, but it should never justify bad behavior.
  8. Reveal it all at once: Avoid info-dumping the character's backstory in one go.
  9. Make it better than the plot: The backstory should relate to the story, but not be better than the story or the backstory should be the story.
  10. Make it boring: Backstory should be interesting and engaging and relevant to the plot. Don't add it in because you think it is clever. Backstory must serve a purpose.
  11. Use it to create a deus ex machina: Backstory should not be used to solve problems or create an easy solution to your ending.
  12. Make it the focus: Backstory should enhance the story, not be the focus of it. If your backstory is the focus then maybe you are starting your story in the wrong place.

So, there you have it - my 12 dos and don'ts of revealing critical backstory in a novel. As always, the most important thing is to keep the story and characters in mind when deciding how and when to reveal backstory. Happy writing!

My Books

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published