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 that underlie the situation existing at the main narrative's start. Typically, the genres in which a backstory may be revealed include all entertainment media being significant in all literary works such as novels or short stories, stage or radio plays, and so also derivative media such as TV dramas and movie films. Even a purely historical work selectively reveals backstory to the audience, a backstory which may receive alternative creative emphasis in each rendition of a novel, play, or film, while each shares key elements—however differently they may be depicted and revealed—which are factors of timing, style and story telling art of a given media while the whole of a backstory goes to facts.
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 their 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. It may eventually be published as a story in its own right in a prequel.
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.
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."
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.