Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
In narratology, a back-story (also back story or backstory) is the history behind the situation extant at the start of the main story. This literary device is often employed to lend the main story depth or verisimilitude. A back-story may include the history of characters, objects, countries, or other elements of the main story. Back-stories are usually revealed, sketchily or in full, chronologically or otherwise, as the main narrative unfolds. However, a story creator may also create portions of a back-story or even an entire back-story that is solely for his or her own use in writing the main story and is never revealed in the main story.
Examples of back-stories
- Probably the most extensive back-story ever created is that for J. R. R. Tolkien's novel The Lord of the Rings; much of it was published posthumously in The Silmarillion and other books. (Actually, this back-story existed long before Tolkien ever decided to write the novel.) Other fantasy authors, notably Robert Jordan in his Wheel of Time series, have followed suit. J. K. Rowling's back-story for the Harry Potter books is quite elaborate.
- In science fiction, Frank Herbert's Dune series has an extensive back-story, which has allowed other authors to write a series of prequels based on it.
- When George Lucas wrote the original Star Wars movies, he wrote a back-story to explain where the characters came from. That backstory became the source of a prequel trilogy of movies and the Expanded Universe.
- The third Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, begins with a scene set during protagonist Indiana's childhood, explaining where he acquired his hat, his whip, the scar on his chin and his fear of snakes; this in turn led to the television series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which can be seen as a back-story to the movie trilogy.
- The movies Memento and Irréversible feature the novel orientation of being told backwards in time, scene by scene, with the concluding scenes occurring first, and so in some sense they may be considered as entirely comprising back-story.
Peculiar attributes of back-stories
In a shared universe more than one author may share the same back-story. The later creation of a back-story that conflicts in some way with a previously written main story may require the adjustment device known as retroactive continuity.
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