In my head, I spend a lot of time on backstory. I don’t write it down, mostly, but I try to get a clear sense of what has happened to my characters before they enter my story. For the main characters, this is essential. Otherwise, how could I understand them and their motivations and their desires, and write them with any sense of reality? I think most writers understand this and have a backstory for their main characters.
Strong writers have a backstory for every character. I am amazed by writers who can get their minor characters to grow and develop over the course of a story. This can only happen when the author has given them as much backstory as the main characters. An author who can do this and do it well is like God. God knows everything about everyone, and a writer should do be the same for her characters.
Of course, one does not want minor characters to start thinking they are main characters and take over the novel. Like God, a good writer must stay in control. If a minor character becomes too big, pull him out and give him his own story. Developing characters thoroughly is different than having a lot of main characters.
I create backstory for some of my minor characters, and I want to push myself to do it with all of them. I’ve found that when stuck on a scene or when having trouble moving through a minor conflict, if I start thinking about the minor characters involved, thinking about where they came from and what they want, my writing carries more purpose and complexity.
Backstory. It’s for everyone.