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Ah, the Backstory; a trope that tells the reader what happened to Bob before all the chaos began. It can make you weep, groan with Narm, swell with pride, and hack phlegm all over yourself at the same time.

Tropes that are always backstories:

  • Accidental Child-Killer Backstory: A character responsible for a child's death in the past will carry that burden into the present.
  • Adaptational Backstory Change
  • Ambiguous Criminal History: An unexplained criminal record.
  • Backstory
  • Backstory Horror: Something seems simple or innocent enough, but after part of the backstory is revealed either by Word of God or in the show itself, it's hard to look at it the same again.
  • Backstory of the Day: Part of a character's backstory that has never been implied before is revealed only to fit in with the current episode's theme or events.
  • Close to Home: A character becomes involved in an incident that unearths old trauma.
  • Cope by Pretending: Something so horrible has happened/is happening to a character that, either knowingly or unknowingly, they pretend that it hasn't happened at all.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: One horrible experience, and a character gets a whole lot more cynical.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: A backstory packed with tragedy.
  • Dead All Along: Character believed to have been alive the whole time is...not.
  • Death by Origin Story: Dying as a part of a character's backstory ensures that you're never coming back.
  • Defeat as Backstory: A character suffered a defeat sometime before the main events of the story.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: When Good Parents are unfortunately also dead parents.
  • Expansion Pack Past: The details of a character's past go on and on and on until it's incredibly complicated.
  • Fire Stolen from the Gods: Knowledge now held by mortals was taken from the gods in mythic times.
  • Freudian Excuse: The villain / jerk is the way they are because of a bad experience in their childhood / adolescence.
  • Freudian Excuse Denial: A character denies any incident in their past or bad experience is a motivation for their current actions.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: Whether being told by a character or coming to the realization themselves, a villain learns that no, they cannot blame their actions on something bad they experienced.
  • His Story Repeats Itself: To resolve or come to closure with something that happened in their backstory, a character experiences an event very similar to what happened before.
  • Historical Rap Sheet: A historical event or disaster was caused by a character.
  • History with Celebrity: A celebrity guest-stars in a work with the reason that they have history with one of the characters.
  • How Dad Met Mom: How two parents of a character met, either in one scene or a whole episode.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: Details of a character's backstory conflict with one another. There might be an in-universe reason, or it might be a writing flub.
  • Mysterious Past: The backstory of a character either has very little detail or no detail at all.
  • Newspaper Backstory: There's a brief shot of a newspaper clipping to show part of a character's backstory.
  • No Origin Stories Allowed: When the creator doesn't even want to give a proper backstory for a character.
  • Origins Episode: An episode or installment later in the series' run that is devoted to explaining a character's origins.
  • Parental Abandonment: Whether it's because they were kidnapped, killed, or willingly made the choice to leave, a parent (or parents) leave their child(ren) behind.
  • Parent Never Came Back from the Store: Parent claims to be running a simple errand, but doesn't return.
  • Pre-Insanity Reveal: The Reveal that insane characters used to be, well, not-insane.
  • Posthumous Character: Someone dies before or very, very early in a work, but they still have an important role in the story.
  • Rape as Backstory: The explanation for a character's current state is that they were raped in the past.
  • Retired Badass: Someone who used to be a badass in the day, but has given up the role.
  • Sports Hero Backstory: Not only was a character good at sports in the past, they were the best at it.
  • Standard Cop Backstory: The general formula for a backstory—bad relationship with parents, time in foster care, maybe a younger sibling to care for, and one or two traumatic or otherwise harmful experiences.
  • Surprisingly Normal Backstory: Rather than a backstory full of trauma, tragedy, and loss, a character's backstory is pretty average for a human being.
  • Sympathetic Murder Backstory: A character once killed someone, but for sympathetic reasons—still, they carry guilt over it.
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: Flashback showing the moment when a character's backstory went from happy and peaceful to downright tragic.
  • When It All Began: The one moment or event that caused everything else in the story to be the way it is.

Tropes that are sometimes backstories:

  • Abusive Parents: Parents that abuse their children, emotionally, physically, mentally, etc.
  • Ambiguously Absent Parent: Growing up with a parent absent without explanation.
  • Ambiguous Start of Darkness: When the villain came to be a villain is uncertain.
  • Campfire Character Exploration: Characters sitting by a campfire take advantage of the moment to open up.
  • Career-Ending Injury: A character's dreams or current career are/was completely destroyed by an injury that keeps them from pursuing it.
  • Creation Myth: The world of a work has a myth (or maybe myths) for how everything was created.
  • Doomed Hometown: The destruction of the hero's hometown is what stirs them into the adventure.
  • Episode Zero: The Beginning: An episode/chapter/issue of a series that is a prequel of the first installment. Basically, the beginning of something.
  • Give Him a Normal Life: New parents stuck in a dangerous situation give their child up for adoption to spare them from the hardships of their lives.
  • Grief-Induced Split: A couple breaks up after a tragedy, often their child's death.
  • Had to Be Sharp: Someone grew up in an environment that was so cutthroat, dangerous, and distrusting that they had to learn otherwise negative traits (thievery, being able to lie well, etc) just to survive.
  • Harmless Freezing: Someone is frozen and is then unfrozen after several years have passed, and must now adjust to the new world.
  • Heroic BSoD: The hero suffers too much and has an emotional breakdown.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: Right as a character has or is about to accomplish something amazing and has a good future ahead of them, something happens that forces them to retire from it.
  • Kid Hero All Grown-Up: The hero of the story starts off as a child and becomes an adult by the end, either by Time Skip or over the course of the plot.
  • The Lost Lenore: The lover, spouse, or pined-for love of a character was killed, and they are still very much hurt by it.
  • My Greatest Failure: A character once made a mistake or choice that ended so poorly for them that it carries with them forever after.
  • My Greatest Second Chance: A character prevents a mistake they regret making from happening again, to them or to others.
  • Mythopoeia: Fictional world has fictional mythology.
  • Never Had Toys: A character grew up with no toys, whether by choice or due to abuse or poverty.
  • No Place for a Warrior: Someone who has spent so long in a combat-heavy environment that settling down to normal civilian life is difficult.
  • Past Experience Nightmare: Something bad in a character's past still haunts them in nightmares.
  • A Place Holds Memories: A character reflects on their past while in a significant location.
  • Post-Adventure Adventure: A character had a previous, unseen, adventure that set up the one we're going to see.
  • Prequel: A story set before the main story.
  • Real Award, Fictional Character: A fictional character earns a Real Life award, like the Pulitzer Prize or similar.
  • Serial Spouse: A character who has been divorced again and again and again.
  • Shooting Lessons From Your Parents: Parents or parental figures teach their children the skill of being a sharpshooter.
  • Somber Backstory Revelation: A character's past is discussed in a somber mood.
  • Start of Darkness: A prequel about how the villain came to be who they are.
  • Taught to Hate: A character's enmity towards a person or group was taught to them by others.
  • You All Share My Story: All seemingly unrelated characters are actually connected.