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This article is about the literary device. For "back-stories" of consumer goods, see Back-story (production).

A backstory, background story, back-story or background is a set of events invented for a plot, presented as preceding and leading up to that plot. It is a literary device of a narrative history all chronologically earlier than the narrative of primary interest.

Generally, it is the history of characters or other elements[which?] that underlie the situation existing at the main narrative's start. Even a purely historical work selectively reveals backstory to the audience.[1][2]


As a literary device backstory is often employed to lend depth or believability to the main story. The dramatic revelation of secrets from the backstory, as a useful technique for developing a story, [example needed] was recognized as far back as Aristotle, in Poetics.

Backstories are usually revealed, partially or in full, chronologically or otherwise, as the main narrative unfolds. However, a story creator may also create portions of a backstory or even an entire backstory that is solely for their own use in writing the main story and is never revealed in the main story.[examples needed]

Backstory may be revealed by various means, including flashbacks, dialogue, direct narration, summary, recollection, and exposition. It may eventually be published as a story in its own right in a prequel.[example needed] The original Star Wars movie and its first two sequels are examples of a work with a preconceived backstory, which was later released as the "prequel" second set of three movies.


Recollection is the fiction-writing mode whereby a character calls something to mind, or remembers it. A character's memory plays a role for conveying backstory, as it allows a fiction-writer to bring forth information from earlier in the story or from before the beginning of the story. Although recollection is not widely recognized as a distinct fiction-writing mode, recollection is commonly used by authors of fiction.

For example, Orson Scott Card observes that "If it's a memory the character could have called to mind at any point, having her think about it just in time to make a key decision may seem like an implausible coincidence . . . ." Furthermore, "If the memory is going to prompt a present decision, then the memory in turn must have been prompted by a recent event."[3]

Shared universe[edit]

In a shared universe more than one author may shape the same backstory. The later creation of a backstory that conflicts with a previously written main story may require the adjustment device known as retroactive continuity, informally known as "retcon".[example needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Backstory at Merriam Webster online
  2. ^ Backstory at
  3. ^ Card, Orson Scott (1988), "Character & Viewpoint", p. 113. Cincinnati, OH: Writer's Digest Books. ISBN 0-89879-307-6.