Backstory is a pointless device, both in life and in storytelling. Yet, a lot of people attach themselves to the past and find it in some way poignant. I posit that the past has very little to do with the present. The paradox, however, is that at the same time it has everything to do with it.
Let me explain:
Who we are, right now, is based on the experiences we’ve had – obviously, right? – which is why our past has everything to do with the present. Okay. But, consider this: we will continue to think and act as we do, regardless of anyone knowing the details of that past. I am writing this, right now, because I have learned something in the past that has given me the insight (or what I currently believe to be insight) to do so. But, what matters to you, the reader, is the fact that I am writing it – not why.
Here is a sadly more universal situation to consider: If your boyfriend punches you in the face, does it matter that he was abused as a child?
It’s a reason, sure, and one which most definitely opens the gates of understanding, but it is packaged with a false sense of connection. How so? Because, a) intimating a harrowing experience, by default, creates a bond based on sympathy, pity, or guilt; and b) maybe we were abused, too, and now we feel less lonely about this facet of our past because here is someone else who has “been there.” We say to ourselves, “Ohhhh, so that’s why he punches me in the face. Since I now have an understanding of his anger I will continue to allow it, because who the hell am I to say how he should deal with such things? I am glad he is with me, and not someone weaker.”
Bullshit. All we have done is rationalize being duped.
This is the effect of backstory in both reality, and in storytelling – hence why it is not only pointless, but damaging. What goes on in the present doesn’t require a reason. What matters is that it simply is. Giving any sort of background to what we look at adds unnecessary inflection to reality and allows us to rationalize why what we’re seeing is happening – rather than seeing it for what it is and applying the proper recourse.* What happens is we create and accept a weak progression of logic: He punches me in the face because he was abused as a child. Next time it will be: He punches me in the face because last night he ate shrimp. And eventually: He punches me in the face because I deserve it.
The truth, however, is in the present: He punches me in the face.
*I’m referring specifically to violent actions and events of inherent and incontrovertible amorality.