One writerly question, one answer, one minute to read!
Here we go…How much backstory does my character need?
When I started writing, I went on my merry way happily creating characters left right and centre without much thought about them or where they came from. The result was that they only seemed to be there for the benefit of the main characters. Whilst this may not seem a big deal, it’s a complaint I’ve read in reviews of lots of authors, so readers do know!
My answer then, is that all characters need a back story. The extent of that back story will depend on how involved they are in your plot, but it’s important to know (and keep a record) of the most important details.
Back story is important for two reasons: motivation and continuity. Where your characters have come from, their backgrounds, their upbringing, their relationship history, all feed into where they are now and will determine how they act. Someone’s who’s got a tragic past they’re struggling to deal with is unlikely to dance around picking daisies. Likewise, a happy go lucky person is unlikely to sit around in the doldrums. Knowing your character means you know how they’ll respond to the situations you put them in.
Then there’s the issue of continuity. Trust me, editing is a lot easier if you’ve made a note of your character’s details. You don’t want them changing age, eye colour, or the name of the hotel they run halfway through the story. After all, there’s no need to create problems for yourself because editing is hard enough!