Creating Your Main Character Backstory

Your character’s backstory is comprised of those incidents that define his current situation, thoughts, feelings, and motives and occurred before the first page of the script.

Backstory is not necessarily told in the pages of the screenplay. A good writer will embed aspects of the backstory throughout the script and reveal them as the story progresses, never having to inform the reader of the character’s backstory through heavy-handed exposition.

What you need to know about your character’s backstory

  1. Physiology – age, sex, appearance
  2. Sociology – class, occupation, education, home life, religion, political affiliation
  3. Psychology – sex life, moral standards, goals, personality

To create your protagonist’s backstory you need to write a thorough, detailed biography of your character and define the major incidents from his past that affect whom, and where, he is today.

Your character’s biography traces his life from birth to the time the story begins and may include:

  • Name
  • Birthplace
  • Age at the time of the beginning of the story
  • What his parents do for a living
  • What his relationship is with his parents
  • His relationship with his siblings (competitive? supportive?)
  • How long he has been married and where he met his spouse
  • What his early life and school years were like (was he an honor student, active in clubs?)
  • Characteristics – athletic, mischievous, serious, extrovert, introvert….
  • College or other major experiences
  • His occupation and the evolution of his professional life
  • His relationship with his boss and co-workers
  • His dreams and goals – and whether they were achieved
  • Any travel experiences
  • Political and religious views
  • Sexual attitudes and ideas
  • His hobbies, interests, and desires
  • Idiosyncrasies
  • His physical description
  • General description of his living situation
  • Personal motivations
  • His dominant, core trait
  • His fatal flaw
  • Any life changing or defining events

After creating your main character’s biography and backstory, write a “Day in the Life of…”. Have a full understanding of your character before sending him out into the world (or onto the script page).

Excerpt from Laura Cross at About a Screenplay

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3 thoughts on “Creating Your Main Character Backstory

    • Absolutely, I seem to remember a Clint Eastwood movie where a character asked Clint Eastwood’s character what kind of childhood he had (or something like that). The response…”Short.” Well, that said A LOT about the backstory of the character Eastwood was playing. Detail does not always mean defining. ~ Meyer Lane

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