We all have a backstory. You know, those events in our past that affect how we react to things now. Things that push our buttons. Take me, for example, as a child who stuttered, I was often perceived as less intelligent than others, as if my stuttering were an indication of my IQ. So, now if you want to push my buttons, treat me as if I'm stupid. Believe me, it won't be a pretty sight.
We all react to things differently. Take someone falling; I grew up during the age of slapstick comedy, full of prat-falls. Now, if someone falls, including myself, I have to fight the urge to laugh like a demented loon.
Different things affect our deep emotions, too. I am a weepy soul. News stories, movies and some well-written scenes in books can make me cry. My Calvin says, "I'm a soft-hearted woman in a hard-hearted world." But basically, I can't stand to see someone sad or belittled or abused--things that point back to my childhood, my backstory.
As writers, we need to know our character's backstory. What makes them tick? Why does our hero mistrust women? Why does our heroine have an eating disorder? Why does this person get angry when he or she is no longer in control of a situation? A backstory gives our characters flaws, makes them real to the reader and creates room for personal growth within the story.
Even so, we must dribble in the backstory in little dabs. How many of us have read pages of backstory only to feel our eyes glaze over. Usually, by this time, I'm thinking let's get on with it. Move the story forward! This becomes a writer's challenge: Putting in enough backstory to explain the character's quirks, but not so much as to beleaguer the point by droning on and on and on.
Do I handle this part of writing well? Not yet, but when I find myself writing more than two paragraphs about someones backstory, I ask myself if there isn't a quicker, more interesting way for my readers to know why...why does my character act or react this way? Writers, create and use your character's backstory.