Storage vs. Backstory: Definitions, Variations, and Goal

The choices your characters make in your story are shaped by their past. Sometimes you need to tell your readers about events that happened before your story began. Not sure how? Try memory or backstory to share the past in the present.

You are a deep, complex, and interesting individual, and it goes without saying that you would like your characters to be too. But what makes someone complex and interesting?

The answer lies in their past – what they have been through makes them what they are today. When writing a story, we add dimension to our characters by showing readers their past through two plot tools – memories and backstory. Sometimes the difference between the two is not clear, but knowing how to use them can make a huge difference in your characterization.

In this article, we're going to break down the definition of backstory and storage and examine how and when to use them, respectively.

Definition of memory in a novel

A memory is something (for example an event or piece of knowledge) that your character has directly experienced or learned and that he can remember at a later point in time. The memory is filtered by the character who experienced the event and is shaped by their emotions and perceptions.

Use of memory

Think of a memory as something your character would tell you in conversation. It is personal, and as a result, a memory has the following properties:

1. Memory is subjective or even imprecise

A memory is how a person remembers something; How they remember it may not be what everyone remembers. A child will keep memories of their beautiful, loving mother even if the rest of the world remembers her as a rude and unattractive person.

This way, a character's memory can be used to mislead the reader or focus on something that other characters are unfamiliar with or not noticed by other characters.

2. Memory is emotional

Memories trigger emotions directly; A character who remembers a memory usually experiences a strong emotion that follows them. A young man reminding himself of his wedding can be full of happiness, while an old man reminding himself of his wedding day can be bittersweet because his wife has passed away.

If your character remembers a memory and doesn't evoke an obvious emotion, the emotion is most likely a surprise – their own shock at the inability to respond to the memory.


Would you like to share a piece of your character's past, including its emotional impact? Let your character recall a memory.

3. The memory is intimate

A memory is dear to the heart. It's something that keeps your character close and most likely has some prejudice. You can't just let it go or be convinced that you will change your mind about it.

Characters will hold memories like treasure – or in the case of bad memories, flaws and insecurities.

When to use memory

Memories are best used when you want to tell something emotional about your character, e.g. For example, you want to give a reason for a sudden change in emotions or bring up a strong and strong opinion. This will allow your readers to experience those emotions alongside the character and understand why they are feeling the way they do.

In general, memories work best when a story is told in the first or third person.

Definition of the backstory in a novel

Backstory is objective information about a character's past. It is not filtered through the character's eyes, but can be conveyed by a third-party narrator and can contain experiences that the character can remember as well as information that the character does not know.

Using the backstory

If a memory is a conversation, a back story is a video clip. Instead of learning from your character, watch them experience the event in question, perhaps like an old-fashioned black and white film strip. A backstory differs from memory in the following ways:

1. The backstory is objective and accurate

The reader sees the backstory from an objective point of view, more like a documentary and less like an interview. A backstory is the reality of what happened in the character's past.

In the example above, a child would have a good memory of their loving mother, but presented as a backstory, the author would also explain that this image of the woman is not shared by others who find her uncomfortable.


Do you want to make sure that your reader knows the truth about your character's past regardless of what your character knows or remembers? Let your reader know this inside information with a backstory.

2. Backstory does not trigger emotions in the character

A backstory is an explanation to the reader. Whatever emotional response it elicits, it comes from the reader, not the character.

3. The backstory may contain information that the character does not know

The character may not know everything in their backstory, but the reader might. A character might not realize that he was adopted, or that his best friend was always their enemy, or that his lover is a secret double agent, or that he has magic in his blood … the list can go on and on.

The point is that the backstory can be a mystery to the character himself, but still reveals its depth to the reader.

When to use the backstory

Backstory is best used when you want your readers to know your characters better, maybe even better than the characters themselves. It can also be used to tease plot points that come later or to help your readers understand why your character did something the way they did, even if the character doesn't understand it himself.

In general, the backstory works best when a story is told in an almighty third person.

The past in the present

The life we ​​are living now is shaped by the events that took place before. Hence, you will likely find that your readers need information about your characters and their world before your story begins. Memories and backstories are two effective ways to share this information.

At the end of each story, come back to the present story and involve your readers in the decisions your characters make now.

Do you prefer to use memories or backstories when developing your characters? Let us know in the comments below.


Pick one of your characters and write either a memory that will be recalled by the first person or a backstory that will be told by the third person. Remember to focus on emotions for memory and facts for back story.

Do you need a command prompt? Hannah takes her kids to swim by the pool, which her own mother once did to her, a fateful summer.

Take fifteen minutes to write. When you're done, share your practice in the comments below.

J. D. Edwin

J. D. Edwin