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Writer's Edge: The Backstory

The term, backstory means information about the main character's background that happened before the opening credits have rolled onto the screen.


The trend these days is to present as much information about the protagonist of your story quickly and within the first ten pages of your script. No longer do you spend twenty pages of your script establishing information which may or may not relate to what is about to come.

In the film Bugsy, this is what we learn about gangster Bugsy Siegel within the first five minutes of the beginning of the movie. He's a cold blooded killer and his mob colleagues don't respect him. He's married with children and a womanizer who cheats on his wife. He also lives in an upscale penthouse in New York. All that backstory is presented within a few minutes of the opening credits.

Let's look at the film, The French Connection. The movie opens with Detective Popeye Doyle undercover dressed as Santa Claus seemingly collecting money for the Salvation Army. A drug suspect flees across the street with Popeye and his partner in hot pursuit. Cornering the suspect, Popeye beats him mercilessly. As the audience, we learn these things about him right away. He's a blue collar cop who does things his way without concern for proper police conduct. He loses his cool easily, is quick to anger, and shows signs of possibly being somewhat unbalanced.

The backstory now is absolutely minimalistic and should be presented within a few minutes of screen time in order to get your story moving as fast as possible.

Get more help creating characters with Linda Seger's book
Creating Unforgettable Characters