The story that sits as the backdrop of your novel isn’t always apparent to the reader. A lot of cases, actually, authors don’t really have a back story for their characters or novel, and the back story isn’t always something that the reader looks for. I mean, generally speaking, if it was interesting, wouldn’t you be writing about it?
In some cases, though, there actually IS an interesting back story. That’s why some authors go back and write prequels, whether it’s because they already knew what happened before the original novel took place, or they thought of something great after the series ended. As mentioned before, though, not all authors do this; some choose to just reflect on past events throughout the current story instead.
Personally, I LOVE creating back stories. Sometimes my novel starts out as the back story, or maybe it’s what I think of first (the events that the true story stems from), and occasionally something I think about after. During most of my writing, though, I think of the back story as I build the story I’m working on. For example, in the story I’m working on now- I really need a working name for it- the story started out as a group of half-dragons living on a new continent. As I wrote the book, details about their past came to me.
Details such as where they came from; another continent far away from where they are now, where their race lived at for centuries beforehand. The half-dragons still lived there, but their home was riddled with civil war and bloodshed and a small group of dragons opted to escape from that nightmare. More fine tuned character details, such as how the Gods came into being; there was a world-quake that tore apart the land of the living and the land of the dead, and the powerful magic wielders had to sacrifice the dragons, the wood walkers, and the spirit elves to stop the dead from ravaging the land of the living. The Gods were born from that sacrifice, along with the human race and several other half-breeds.
There are lots of examples I can take from my work. The two I mentioned above are from my current work in progress, but from my other pieces that are on hold I can think of numerous examples of back story that I’ve developed while writing the pieces.
To me, back story represents the fine details of a story, it shows how well crafted the world is; not to say that the novel has to have very detailed back story for the novel to make sense, more just that having those parts of the story worked out gives the opportunity to shed light on those events throughout the writing. I like to held an arms length away from the characters and the story, but I also like grabbing those bits and pieces thrown at me while I’m reading and left to figure it out myself.
There’s no right or wrong when it comes to back story, really. Back story is just another interesting alternative, if that makes any sense. Different dimensions of the story that aren’t really THE story, but influence the story and are played around with by the story.