How Much Backstory is too Much? by Katie Ginger – Writing Tips

How Much Backstory is too Much? by Katie Ginger – Writing Tips

Our new segment for 2022 is for new authors/writers and written by published authors, titled – Writing Tips. These posts will be shared with you every Wednesday. Our latest post is from author Katie Ginger on the subject ‘How Much Backstory is too Much?’. This post contains affiliate links.

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How Much Backstory is too Much

Having written a few novels, I’ve come to understand one thing about writing advice: it isn’t always right!

For example, listen to any podcast or read any article on writing and you’ll be faced with the advice that your first page and definitely your first chapter needs to grab the reader’s attention, and to do that you need pacing and to cut out backstory. Some experts will even say there isn’t any room for backstory in those first precious pages, but is that actually true?

In my experience, no, it’s not entirely, and here’s why.

First of all, let’s talk about backstory. Backstory is all the stuff that happens before we meet your character. It’s all the things that have gone before (both good and bad) that have turned them into the person they are when we first see them on the page.

Secondly, why is the first chapter the most important? The simple answer is this is the start of your story! It’s your chance to grab the reader and get their attention so they don’t want to put your book down. In a querying situation, these are the pages that the editor/agent will judge your work on. They need to be good, right?

So how much backstory do you need and where should you put it?

I’d definitely say that, as a writer, you need to know the backstory of your characters, even if none of it appears on the page. This will make writing much easier and there are a lot of resources out there to help you do that. Some people interview their characters, others prefer to do work before they begin writing and getting to know them. Find what works for you but having an idea of who your character is and what baggage they carry will help you determine their character traits and how they’ll react to all the horrible things you’re going to throw at them.

In terms of how much backstory you need, I would say you need just enough to make your characters’ reactions make sense, even in those first few pages. For example, if we’re going to see a character three months on from the death of their husband, we need to know a little bit about their marriage, possibly even the death, to understand their grief and pain.

Another, slightly silly example but one that really demonstrates what I mean is an adventurer facing a snake. Sounds mad, I know, so bear with me! When our adventurer walks onto page one, he seems heroic and fierce, then he comes across a snake and freezes in fear. That might be fair enough if it’s a big snake, but what would you think if you knew his father was killed by a python when he was a child. Maybe our adventurer even saw it happen and was helpless to stop it, and even after all this time, he’s still terrified of them. It’s a fear he’s been unsuccessfully battling for years.

All of a sudden the fear is not just understandable, it’s tangible, and the little bit of backstory we’ve dropped in makes the event even more impactful. We’ve also upped the stakes and tension immeasurably in just a couple of lines.

So backstory is important, even in those first few pages, but my rule of thumb is only to give snippets. We don’t need to know where a character was born or what their first job was, but we do need to know enough to give their reactions and feelings the most impact.

About the Author

Katie Ginger How Much Backstory is too Much

KATIE GINGER lives by the sea in the south-east of England, and apart from holidays to very hot places where you can sit by a pool and drink cocktails as big your head, she wouldn’t really want to be anywhere else.

The Little Library on Cherry Lane is Katie’s ninth and latest novel. She was also shortlisted for the Katie Fforde Debut Novel of the Year Award for her first novel The Little Theatre on the Seafront.

When she’s not writing, Katie spends her time with her husband and two kids, and their dogs: Wotsit, the King Charles spaniel, and Skips, the three-legged rescue. (And yes, they are both named after crisps!)

For more about Katie, her books and latest news, sign up to her monthly newsletter here: And as a thank you’ll get a FREE short story!

Author Links


The Little Library on Cherry Lane by Katie Ginger

The Little Library on Cherry Lane

Author – Katie Ginger
Publisher – HQ
Pages – 361
Release Date – 11th March 2022
ISBN 13 – 978-0008422769
Format – ebook, paperback, audio

Synopsis writing tips 2022

Elsie Martin may lead a quiet life, but when her beloved library is threatened to make way for a new housing development, Elsie knows it has to be saved – and that, despite being painfully shy, she needs to lead the campaign to save it.

Jacob Yardley thinks he’s doing the right thing by building a new affordable housing development. After all, people don’t really use libraries anymore, do they?

But, as Elsie and Jacob clash over the future of the library, sparks begin to fly. Jacob is falling back in love with books and libraries – could he possibly be falling for her too? And will Elsie be able to save the library that means so much to her?

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