Author Topic: Backstory Workshop [Part 4]: A Harder History  (Read 280 times)

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Offline Otter

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Backstory Workshop [Part 4]: A Harder History
« on: February 19, 2019, 12:07:25 PM »
This is original content is written my me.  If you would like to use it elsewhere, please quote me and link back to this post.
A Harder History
Humble Beginnings
A fun way to spark interesting backstories is to come up with super menial jobs, and then work out how on earth they went from the temple janitor, or a glass blower, or the guy who lights the streetlamps at dusk, to an adventurer. Coming up with something that has nothing to do with adventuring or adventure-related jobs (thief, soldier, etc) forces you to get creative for how your character stumbled onto the path of the adventurer.

Writing Weaknesses
They say nobody’s perfect, but we all want our characters to be flawless. It is difficult to make a character with genuine flaws in a game where you’re supposed to have all sorts of awesome abilities. The thing is, a game you can beat on the first play through because your character is so awesome… wouldn’t even be fun. Perfect characters in a group game aren’t fun for other players to interact with. They are inherently stale because there is no room for development built in, and nothing lacking that the other characters can fill in for.

Think of some of your favorite people in your life. What are their weaknesses? You still like them despite these weaknesses, right? What about some of your favorite fictional characters? Or even historical ones. Everyone has flaws, so remember to use real examples as inspiration.

Some of the best ‘weaknesses’ I’ve seen come from a single driving emotional flaw that presents in a variety of ways. For example, I made a character once that betrayed some people close to her and robbed them blind. Because of this, she was full of guilt, which resulted in self-hatred. This came out in a variety of ways. She was reckless and self-sacrificing, she drank too much, she was hostile, sarcastic, and refused to smile. She had an unhealthy relationship with money and had a bitter contempt for betrayal… And she was extremely generous and kind to poor people and victims of betrayal. All of those ‘flaws’ were symptoms of a single driving emotion; her guilt.

Trash or Twist the Tropes
Sometimes you want your character to have an element of their backstory that is stereotypically tropey. That’s valid! Still, it may be possible to adjust it into something less tropey than your initial concept.

I do this when I write things that I want to use as inspiration rather than copy directly (like research that requires sources). It’s so easy to accidentally copy something, even when you’re trying to give it your own spin. Broaden it into the simplest conceptual outline you can. Then, without looking at the original content, narrow it down again. This way you retain the bones of the concept, but the actual implementation, the muscle, is your own.

Let’s say you want a character who doesn’t have parents. This can sometimes come off as a shallow attempt to add depth (partly because it’s so incredibly over-used), so let’s see if we can give it a little more life. First, broaden this out. Rather than not HAVING parents, let’s broaden this into a nice vague “the parents are not in the picture”. Then it’s time to narrow it back down.

Personally, I scrap the first few ideas that pop into my head as they tend to be very stereotypical and common.

Their parents/family were killed/died in an accident.  Scrapped!

The mother died in childbirth and the father fell ill and died.  Next!

I feel like I’m relying too hard on the theme of ‘they’re dead’ here--see how easy that is to come back to? Let’s try another route. The parents aren’t dead at all, but they’re toxic people and so your character cut ties with them. The character was adopted and only told once they reached adulthood, and maybe although they love their adoptive family, they want to try to find their biological family, too. Maybe they’re from a genuinely happy and emotionally healthy family.

Wait wait wait--what??

That’s allowed?

Part 0: The Introduction
Part 1: My own backstory
Part 2: Why even write a backstory?
Part 3: Starting off Simple
Part 4: A Harder History <-- You Are Here
Part 5: Expert Mode Epics
Part 6: Bullet-point Backstory
Part 7: A Quick Conclusion
« Last Edit: February 20, 2019, 01:07:21 PM by Otter »
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