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The term backstory (also background story, back story or back-story) has meaning in both fiction and nonfiction.


Backstory in fiction

In fiction, a backstory is the history behind the situation at the start of the main story. A backstory may include the history of characters, objects, countries, or other elements of the main story. As a literary device backstory is often employed to lend depth or verisimilitude to the main story. The dramatic revelation of secrets from the backstory, as a useful technique for developing a story, 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 his own use in writing the main story and is never revealed in the main story.

Backstory may be revealed by various means, including flashbacks, dialogue, direct narration, summary, recollection, and exposition.

Recollection as a means of revealing backstory

Recollection is the fiction-writing mode whereby a character calls something to mind, or remembers it. A character's memory plays a vital 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, the use of recollection is commonly used by authors of fiction. Recollection could be considered a subset of introspection (as a fiction-writing mode), but its role in developing backstory separates it from the other thoughts of a character.[1]

As with other fiction-writing modes, effective presentation of recollection has its own unique issues and challenges.[2] 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."

Shared universe

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.

Backstory in games

In role-playing games, a character’s backstory is usually called his or her background.

Backstory in nonfiction

Back-story in journalism

Since the advent of the Internet and of blogs, journalistic backstory has become much more visible and interesting to the general public. Blogs often focus on the backstory both before and after the standard news story is covered in the media. This is beginning to change the lines between story and backstory and alter the definitions of journalism.

The New York Times has started a daily podcast called "Backstory" in which its editors and senior staff interview its reporters about stories they are working on. The project seems to be designed to help overcome public distrust of the Times and other media by people who assume the backstory is concealed by an elite unconcerned (for reasons of political bias or simple incompetence) about the truth of its official reporting.

CNN now uses its “BackStory” feature to provide “a quick way to catch up on how a story has developed over time.”

Sustainability backstories

In recent years, sustainability advocates have begun to refer to the "backstory" of goods: that is, the impacts on the planet and people created by producing and delivering those goods. Without knowing the full backstory of the things consumers use, they can't accurately judge whether or not the impacts they are indirectly generating by purchasing them are good or bad. Some environmentalists and consumer-protection advocates believe that greater corporate and governmental transparency is a critical step towards sustainability, so that consumers can make more informed choices, and public opinion can be brought to bear on unethical practices.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Backstory" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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