Currently I am trying to craft a fantasy story, but I am having trouble creating a realistic backstory that can explain character actions well. How can I fix that?

  • 4
    Can you be a bit more specific? For example, what do you need to accomplish with the character, and why is the backstory not working? What motivations have you come up with for character actions that don't currently feel realistic? As my old IT guy was fond of saying, "we can't troubleshoot air." Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 17:47

3 Answers 3


Backstory does not need to be either engaging or relevant. If it were both, it would be "story." Unless you have particular need to detail someone's backstory, don't. There are numerous examples of heroes, villains, and bystanders in literature who don't have a lick of precedent for why they are acting as they are.

  • 2
    I could not disagree more. "Precedent" has nothing to do with motivation or backstory. Everyone has a reason for acting why they do, and it is relevant. That backstory may or may not be present in the finished story, but the author needs to know it. Creating the backstory for yourself doesn't mean putting it in the book. It might not be fully fleshed out, but if you as the author don't know why your character is [insert characteristic here], how do you know what s/he's going to do in a given situation? Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 21:25
  • 1
    Look at the "backstory" for the Ringwraiths. They were nine human kings who were given rings of power which corrupted them and left them half-alive, in thrall to Sauron's will. That fits in a tweet and explains all you (and the characters) need to know about their motivations. Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 21:27
  • You're proposing a character-driven narrative. nothing wrong with that, but it's not the only way to write a story. And sometimes, it's irrelevant.
    – DougM
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 22:40
  • I'd classify the ringwraiths as rather poor characters, all things said (though they are fine monsters.) As for their backstory: why did those kings take the rings? It doesn't matter, as all that the mythos requires is that they did.
    – DougM
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 22:43
  • 1) Since the OP is asking about character motivations, I would say s/he is working on a character-driven narrative, and therefore it is relevant. 2) "Why did those kings take the rings?" is an exercise for the student. My point is that because they did, that is sufficient backstory to provide motivation for their actions -- which is what the OP is asking about. The back "story" doesn't need to be a back novel. It just needs to explain the general why. Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 1:40

Your problem is your characters have no readily identifiable motivation. That makes them less than human and impossible for an audience to relate to.

Note that motivation is not necessarily the same as "backstory". People are different, and react differently to the same circumstances.

You need to understand your characters better, otherwise manufacturing a history will highlight your lack of understanding rather than justifying motivation.


JK Rowling is great in backstories. You check out hers to get an idea.

Once Upon A Time created a Rumpelstiltskin backstory; check it out too.

Me, I'm particularly gossipy and nosy. During that course of my everyday life when I hear one-line rumors, I arrive to conclusions that the person might be like this, like that. On news, when a headline was read, you'd jump to conclusions on the possible reasons why it happened.

I think that pretty well starts a good backstory. You think of a simple reason why the person turned to that type of him. Then, since it's fantasy, you'd do well in incorporating twists.

You need a clear sense of who your characters are. Their likes, passion, mannerisms, principles. With that, you could bind their backstory to the present story.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.