What is a backstory? A backstory is the past of the current story. It is what has brought the characters to that point and created the foundation of your story. It is the story behind the story. What is the secret that drives the main character? Why is the woman afraid to love? There can be more than one backstory. Each character and event has their own, and each one can bring more depth to the main story.
With backstories, you don’t just tell it on one page and forget about it. You have to weave it in. That is how the reader can absorb it and retain it. The backstory has to appear when needed and not all at once. It’s the backbone of the story which means it has to be everywhere in the story.
Flashbacks are great ways to weave in a backstory. They can be set throughout the story and take up anywhere from a single sentence to a whole chapter. It all depends on what you want the flashback to do. One character could see a small kitten struggling up a tree, and his thoughts flashback for a few sentences to his own kitten he had as a child. That kitten might have died at the hands of a bully or ran away. Use that flashback to strengthen who the character is and why they act the way they do. Through that flashback, the reader can see why the character cannot stand to see people picked on and bullied by others. The backstory gives insight into the character’s actions.
Through dialogue, the backstory can come out. It can be from one character explaining the history of someone or how they answer questions. It can be just one sentence with one character giving a vague explanation about something. It can help add suspense and help the reader connect with the characters. Allow one character to give some of the backstory. We do it in our own lives all the time. Some might call it gossip or just giving needed information to someone. But it can be extremely useful in a story. Why does one guy get upset every time someone makes a fat joke? Let another character fill the reader in on how he was once picked on as being fact. You don’t have to tell, but let the dialogue between characters do it for you. It might not be the entire story, but it is why the character is who he is and why he will act a certain way as the main story progresses.