Backstory: Let’s See What You’ve Got

We’re looking at backstory this week.  Let’s see if we can come up with some backstory to support the irreconcilable selves of the main characters of the one-liners we’re developing.

1. Our human-rights-attorney story:  When the money runs out before the case against his transgender partner is over, a human rights lawyer joins a prestigious and wealthy law firm not knowing that the managing partner is the devil behind the lawsuit.

Our thematic irreconcilable self is:

Character embodies cowardice (through passiveness) and courage (through aggression).

A few weeks ago we came up with a bit of backstory that supports his cowardice:  Maybe he’s had it easy so far in his legal career; he hasn’t had much push back; he hasn’t had to stand tall in the face of things not going his way.  And maybe he doesn’t really want to be practicing law, maybe his dad always wished he, dad, was a lawyer, so dad always talked about how great being a lawyer would be, and hero wanted to make dad proud in some way, so a lawyer hero became.  Our hero-the-lawyer would actually rather be doing anything else, so the few times push back has come in a case, he just let the opposing force take over.  There hasn’t been enough at stake in any particular case to get him to really give it his all.  Not until now that is, now that his current, troublesome case involves his partner.

As for his aggression, we’ve decided it often comes through when he’s boxing or coaching boxing.  Maybe he boxed with his dad as a kid.  He was scrawny and cowered away from punches, and his dad always berated him for it and said he was a coward.  Maybe dad’s gone now, but our character still wants to prove to dad that he’s not a coward, at least in the context of boxing.  Maybe, to our character, the opponents he boxes against represent his dad.  So while he’s boxing, his getting back at his dad.  And maybe aggression comes out in situations that remind him of this aspect of his dad.

2. Our diamond bullets story:  When his brother’s gang develops a diamond bullet that can penetrate bulletproof vests, a scholarship student must decide whether to help his brother avenge the death of their gang-leader father or protect the father of his girlfriend, the Police Commissioner of New York City.

Our thematic irreconcilable self is:

Character is the embodiment of both dehumanization and compassion.

Again, we’ve already suggested some of our backstory. Our main character grew up in a tough environment, with a dad and older brother both heavily involved in gangs and violence and the other stuff that goes along with that, part of which includes distancing themselves from any person that caused their outfit trouble.  They put trouble makers down, called them derogatory names, killed them if they had to… in a word, they dehumanized them.  By example, our character learned to do this too.

But perhaps our character also had another kind of influence in the neighborhood: a grandparent, a mother, an elderly neighbor. Maybe this good influence ran a foster care for animals that had been abandoned or neglected or mistreated, used for fights, whatever, and the good influence invited our hero to help care for the animals, and taught him to respect living things.  And in this way, our hero also developed compassion.

Well that’s it for me.  How about you?  What sorts of backstories are you coming up with to support your character’s interesting and contradictory traits?


We’ll clarify how some of the concept and theme tools we’ve already discussed inform character.  See you Monday!

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