What is backstory? How important is it to your writing?
The key word is back, friends. As in background. As in, “who cares?”
Well, you the writer care a great deal. But the reader may not.
Today I’ve been writing a lot of backstory. I love fantasy, especially children’s fantasy—both reading it and writing it. After many years of writing other kinds of books, I’m now finally getting back to writing a fantasy. It’s a pentalogy (five-part series), and that makes for some issues—specifically, plot issues. So I’m writing backstory. It’s not really for the reader, but for me, the writer. I have to know the background of my characters and their world(s), the politics, the balance of power. This may all come out to some degree for readers too, but to start with, I’ve got to understand it.
The trick is not to overwhelm your reader with backstory. Write it out, make it as detailed as you like, get it out of your writing system. Then enter your characters’ world. They know the backstory; they’ve lived it. You want to write from their viewpoint, as one who knows it. Then judiciously feed the reader details as needed, like seasoning spaghetti sauce. Luckily, if you oversalt (or overbasil, overoregano) it, you can cut. The Xacto knife is the writer’s greatest tool.