How to Properly Weave Backstory and Flashbacks Into Your Novel

In my last blog post, Five Qualities Every Character In Your Novel Needs To Possess, I mentioned I want to emphasize on character development for your novel.

In the last post, I skimmed over some important factors to consider building your character and mentioned there are five things to make a well-rounded character. These are:

  1. Voice
  2. Beliefs and values
  3. Physical traits
  4. Back-story and flashbacks (I added the flashbacks because it seemed to be a reoccurring device for character development); and
  5. Goals and motivations.

In this post, I will be interrogating the back story for your character/s. Below are things to consider before weaving your character/s back story and flashbacks into your plot.

Almost any story you tell will involve things that happened before the start of chapter one. Events of the past, be they historical context or a character’s previous experience, will likely influence what happens in your narrative. This is where backstory and flashbacks come into play.

The backstory is the story that happens before your novel begins, usually for a particular character. Remember that though you may have pages and pages of character backstory you used to develop your characters, we’re only concerned with what the reader needs to know.

flashback takes readers from the current time to a previous time and is told as an action scene.


A backstory is an event or series of events that can affect your characters before page one and can explain motives or even a character’s inherent nature. Backstory can be doled out through dialogue, thought, or narration.

If you have more backstory than the current story, consider starting your novel earlier in the character’s life. Backstory should serve to enhance your understanding of a character — it shouldn’t comprise everything you know about them. Only deploy it when you’ve already established a character who has a bit of a murky past.

If you’re writing a novel with very minimal backstory, then don’t include too much early on in the manuscript. Only dole out information as the reader needs it. Too much backstory can cause the reader to lose interest and sometimes confuse what time period it is in the current story.


Flashbacks can be a sentence, a paragraph, a scene, or an entire chapter.

The importance of a flashback should influence its length.

You may have a flashback in which a murder occurs, and the murder is the driving force for your protagonist in this story. In that case, give the flashback time to develop on the page. Don’t short-change your reader with only a few sentences.

A flashback must also have significant, intriguing conflict or tension. You’re taking the reader out of the story and into the past, so make the trip worthwhile.

When writing backstory and flashbacks, ask yourself: 

Does the reader need this information? If the answer is no, cut it, or at least move it to a more relevant scene.

Lastly, if your flashbacks are clustered together reposition them farther apart for a more dramatic impact.

Stay tuned for my next post about character development. If you want to read the last post, click here.

Until then, make sure you post your questions, comments or/ and answers below. If you think someone has an interesting point of view, questions or an answer, please invite them or share this post with them.

#DouglasWTSmith #characterdevelopment

Backstory and Flashbacks


11 thoughts on “How to Properly Weave Backstory and Flashbacks Into Your Novel

  1. I think I probably have a more restrictive definition of flashback than you. I think writers always make comments about a character’s backstory, but I would define a flashback as an actual scene of the past. Essentially narrative comments are telling, and flashbacks are showing. Those sorts of flashbacks should be used sparingly, since they disrupt the narrative flow.


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