Do you do back stories?



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  • Do you do back stories?

    I love doing back stories on my characters because I am not restricted by any rules or guidelines and I can allow my mind to create at will all the history and description and thoughts and nuances of a character. Sometimes, if I'm doing a stream-of-consciousness type thing on a character, I actually drift into story-making territory and I kind of watch as an "outside party" as my character shows me what other interesting sh*t they've been up to and wouldn't THIS be a great story or germ of an idea for yet another screenplay?

    The danger of having such a complete back story is the sometimes urge to include too many details of that background into a screenplay. It works wonderfully well for a novel - I had a beautiful memory of my main character and her wedding night integrated into a scene in my novel where she is laying on her daughter's canopy bed. On her wedding night, her husband chuckled as she planned out that their first child would be a girl and she would have a canopy bed. And so on.

    The screenplay opens after the mother has already divorced the father so the memory is bittersweet.

    The tiny details like that would never have fit into a screenplay. But it did help make my characters more "real" to me as I wrote for them in the screenplay.

    Doing the backstory also helps assuage some of that urge to put unnecessary fat into a screenplay.

    After doing a back story, have you ever found yourself scrapping your original storyline because your now very defined character suggested something even better to you?

  • #2


    • #3
      I do Quarterback stories.

      My latest? The story of a vampire quarterback who can only play in night games.



      • #4
        I create back story for a chracter when the plot requires it. Otherwise, it's kinda like putting the cart before the horse.


        • #5
          Otherwise, it's kinda like putting the cart before the horse.
          Really? For me, back story is everything relevant in that character's life right up to FADE IN. I guess maybe I use it as a crutch because I want my characters to be living breathing real people (at least, as they are perceived by a reader or audience) and back story is a help for me in that department. It makes a character more alive, more real to me.


          • #6
            I'm more interested in the front story.


            • #7
              Well, that's fine to create a character's back story to try to inspire ideas for the script, but it's probably going to lead you into trouble unless you're willing for the character's past to be malleable. If you decide that the character has one certain past, then you'll occasionally paint yourself into corners.


              • #8
                That's true enough.

                Also, the back stories were a great help when I wrote the novel based on the characters and general story outline of the screenplay. Of course, narrative writing a whole 'nother beast, but great fun. And I was able to actually make some of the back stories a part of the forward-moving "real" story in the novel. Less so in the screenplay.

                I am so interested in one of the screenplay's side characters after having done his back story and made it work as part of the novel that I'm thinking of yet another novel featuring him as the main character.


                • #9
                  For me, personally, I just really don't see a point in it. It seems like a fruitless waste of time, to me.

                  When I come up with a character, I intrinsically understand him/her. Therefore, I don't need to write out a bio on each one. I totally know what a character would do (though, sometimes they do things that surprise me); I'm not really concerned that they are doing it because their parents got a divorce when they were five.


                  • #10
                    A current script I am working on deals with a man who's over the hill, so I do have some flashback work to explain why he's getting progressively worse at his job, etc. I think it definitely helps but all of my "back stories" are specifically in there to help the flow of the narrative and it's really important to the entire storyline / concept.

                    Do it when you need it. If it's just there to be there, it probably will distract a lot from the story, in my opinion. However, if you think it's important, you're the writer. Write on.


                    • #11
                      Act Zero

                      The distinction between backstory and biography. Make sure to distinguish between prehistory â€- the general background of the place and time, biographies â€- personal histories that add dimension to the characters, and the true backstory â€- which plants and sows the seeds of conflict. ~ David Siegel

                      Are what you're writing character biographies, or backstory?

                      Charles Dickens was a master at writing them. Today, they seem to be made into "prequels"!


                      • #12
                        Re: Act Zero

                        Oh, that puts a different spin on it, doesn't it? I guess I am doing character biographies for the most part. But, with my antagonist or opposing force character, her past IS the reason she is doing what she does in the current story (actual screenplay) and some of it makes it into the screenplay and definitely into the novel. For the most part, my biographies or back story stuff never gets into the screenplay but I definitely know who my characters are.


                        • #13
                          My chiropractor writes back stories.


                          My stories usually start with character, so the story can't really change when I know more about the character.

                          The most important thing about the character I knew before I came up with the story.

                          Back stories are great as long as they don't get in the way of the story - you can throw in all of those details that don't really belong in this story... and leave out the important emotional stuff that is the core of your character (and *also* the core of your story). You don't want to lose focus with a bunch of information about when your protag was teased because they had braces on their teeth if your story is supposed to be about something else.

                          - Bill

                          PS: My personal problem is often with tech research (rather than character stuff). After learning all kinds of things about some subject, I feel *compelled* to include all of it in the script, often creating scenes just to show off some obscure facts.


                          • #14
                            Re: My chiropractor writes back stories.


                            And I feel terribly all alone about it.


                            • #15
                              Re: My chiropractor writes back stories.

                              You don't want to lose focus with a bunch of information
                              I agree with this 100%.