Write This: Author Kristen Simmons on the Importance of Backstory

Lillie Forteau's picture

Dressed in a Hogwarts t-shirt, standing in front of a room filled with eager writers and readers, most adorned in costumes, ranging from Maleficent to The Mad Hatter (me!), author Kristen Simmons explored and explained the magic of backstory. Personally, backstory is something I try and avoid whenever I can (which is never); I walked away with a sense of need to write someone's previous turmoil, love, and treason. 

Write This: Author Kristen Simmons on the Importance of Backstory

To say it was an interesting talk would not do it justice. It was pure fabulousness. 

So, of course, I wanted to include her in our "Write This" Interview series so everyone could feel the same hope that I did when listening to her speak at Grand Rapids Comic Con

Kristen Simmons is the author of the ARTICLE 5 series, THE GLASS ARROW, and METALTOWN. She has worked with survivors of abuse and trauma as a mental health therapist, taught Jazzercise in five states, and is forever in search of the next best cupcake. Currently she lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband, where she spends her days supporting the caffeine industry and chasing her delightfully rambunctious son.

Write This: Author Kristen Simmons on the Importance of Backstory

In writing fiction, why is backstory so very important?
Backstory, as they say, informs front story. Your character only thinks and acts the way they do because of their life experiences. It’s a concept we readily understand in the real world, but often have to take great consideration to employ in writing. Harry Potter doesn’t just have a scar on his forehead for no reason! Someone (who shall not be named) put it there, and that experience affected every part of Harry's life after.

Write This: Author Kristen Simmons on the Importance of Backstory

How do you keep a backstory consistent?
I think the best idea is to treat your characters like people. Really think about what’s happened to them in their lives to make them act and think a certain way, and then keep those traits consistent as you work through your story. I find that taking notes helps! There are also a lot of really helpful character worksheets out there that can help you keep your facts straight.

What are the most important elements to attach to a character's backstory?
That’s entirely up to you! If a girl is fighting someone on a roof and loses because she’s afraid of heights, how she earned the fear is very important for your story. If a guy is afraid of committing in a relationship because he came from an abusive home, that becomes a very important element to explore. Basically, spend time with your characters. Ask them what’s most important!

Do you need a backstory for every single character?
Yes, although the depth of that story, or the extent to which you address that on page, is up to you. Obviously the guy walking down the street that gets a single mention doesn’t need an elaborate backstory, but your main players certainly do.

Writing tips: What of a character's backstory will you actually include in your writing?
This depends on your writing and your story. I think it’s more about thoroughly addressing the backstory elements that matter to the current plot than including every detail. It's like an iceberg, right? You see a little floating at the top, but beneath is a giant mass of ice. The writer must know what's underneath, but the readers only need what sticks out of the water. Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows does an excellent job of blending in the important factors without bogging down the action.

Write This: Author Kristen Simmons on the Importance of Backstory

What's up next for you?
I thrilled to say my next novel, PACIFICA, comes out in March. This is a story about the daughter of a pirate king, and the son of the president, thrown together in a world where the last of the ice caps have melted and people are living on islands of trash. It's exciting, and brutal, but personal, too. Much of the story is about the relocation of a class of people, which I based on my grandmother's internment in WWII.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?
I'm doubly thrilled to say I've signed a three book deal beginning in 2019, about a girl who is accepted into a school for con artists. More to come on that (keep checking my social media pages), but I can't wait to share THE PRICE OF DECEIT with everyone. It's been pure fun to work on!

Happy reading everyone!

Find Kristen online:
Twitter and Instagram: @kris10writes



More articles in our Write This series:
Write This: Author Susan Dennard on #Ownvoices
Write This: Author Stacey Filak on Worldbuilding



Lillie Forteau is an artist and potter who spends most of her days writing, painting, sewing, and cosplaying. You can find her online at LillieWrites for her writing, Lillie Cosplays for her creative cosplays. Find her fandom creations at her etsy: Fangirl Collection. Look for her Write This interview series.