What Is Character Backstory?


I’ve previously written about the importance of backstory in your screenplays. Here is some further pertinent information from the eLearning center at dummies.com.

Backstory refers to everything that occurred in your story’s past. A character’s backstory may include family background, job history, psychological condition and any memories you create for that person from childhood on. The backstory of a situation includes events that led up to it and a suggestion of why that situation’s occurring now.

Here’s a list of categories that you may want to consider in your search for a backstory:

CONVICTIONS AND BELIEFS
What are your character’s political, social, and economic views? Does your character have any theories on life in general or in detail? How did he or she come to feel that way?

EDUCATION
Consider both formal education and acquired education in this category. Where your character went to high school may be as important as the three months he spent on the streets learning to play the drums.

FAMILY BACKGROUND
Invent your character’s family history, including the uncle she was named after but never sees. Friends are included in this category. Geographic location: Detail any environment that helped shape your character’s present circumstances. Create everything from the climate to the socio-economic make-up of the community to the carefully manicured lawns.

KEY PAST EVENTS
Virtually every main event in your story will be possible because of something that’s occurred in the past. What events led up to those in your story, and why did they occur? Past successes and failures: People are shaped in part by their best and worst memories. Knowing what your character’s track record is may be helpful in certain situations that arise in the script itself.

PHOBIAS
Your characters’ fears dictate what they avoid in life and, in some cases, what’s pushing them to succeed. Think specific and general; a fear of rose thorns may be just as compelling as a fear of commitment. The film Arachnophobia was fueled by the main character’s fear of spiders.

PROFESSION
How do your characters make a living? Do they enjoy working at the library, or are they biding their time? How did they get where they are? Quirks: What makes them unique, physically and psychologically? In Forrest Gump, the main character is compiled of odd characteristics, one of which is how fast he can run. The film A Beautiful Mind tackles one man’s battle with schizophrenia. A character’s quirks may propel your story forward.

SYSTEM OF VALUES
People differ in where they draw the line between right and wrong. What do your characters value most in themselves? In a lover? In a child? What types of behavior would make them ill?

TALENTS
What has your character always been good at? Does he utilize that talent, or has it gone by the wayside? Perhaps your story starts on the day an opportunity arises for that talent to emerge.

TIME PERIOD
What part of history are you tackling? Whose history will you portray? Is yours a Civil War story or that of a future age? If you plan to flash between moments in your character’s life, how many moments and what were they? Each of these categories suggests its own series of questions that you might answer about your story.

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