How to Create Your Main Character’s Backstory

Your main character’s backstory is comprised of those incidents that define his or her current situation, thoughts, feelings, and motives and occurred before the first page of the script. Your protagonist’s backstory will inform his or her actions.

Backstory is not necessarily told in the pages of the screenplay. A good writer often embeds aspects of the backstory throughout the script and reveals them as the story progresses, never having to explicitly inform the reader or viewer of the character’s backstory through exposition. 

Though readers and moviegoers may never know the complete details of your character’s backstory, you, as the writer, must know them intimately in order to effectively create the world of your character, the choices he will make, and the journey he will take.

To create your protagonist’s backstory:

1. Define the major incidents from his past that affect who he is, where he is, and what he is doing at the beginning of the story.

2. Determine what aspects, if any, of the backstory need to be presented in the screenplay and how they will be revealed to readers.

Though not necessary, some screenwriters choose to prepare a detailed biography of their main character, tracing their protagonist’s life from birth to the time the story begins, or outline a “Day in the Life” of the hero.

Having a full understanding of your character, before writing him or her onto the script page, helps create a more complex protagonist whose actions ring true.