Readers tell me that every character needs a background story but do they?

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Thread: Readers tell me that every character needs a background story but do they?

  1. #1

    Readers tell me that every character needs a background story but do they?

    After showing my script to some readers, they say that I could give this character more development, or this character, etc. But the screenplay is for a movie that cannot go over 2 hours long, max. They also keep trying to get me to give each of these characters a pay off, but not every character can have a pay off, can they? If I were to develop every single character with backgrounds for each, and give them each their own individual pay offs, it would be an entire miniseries. Do readers have a point though, that I need to this whilst still somehow keep it short enough?

  2. #2
    Backstory and development are not remotely the same thing. When we talk about character development, all we mean is not making characters two-dimensional (a name, gender and basic description). None of that has to come about from any sort of backstory. Much of it can -- and should -- simply come from within the story itself.

    As mentioned previously, the problem with your characters is (1) They all talk the same (2) They all act predictably and similarly (3) They don't have conversations, or apparently considerations, outside of the Case Of The Rapist and (4) They lack credible emotion. You need to address those things within the confines of the text itself before adding redundant backstories via info dump.

    Resolution doesn't mean every character dying/riding into the sunset. When Dorothy returns from Oz she receives her resolution in a very final sense (the main character should) but there's no such denouement for all the characters, yet the story still feels 'resolved'. The method for achieving resolution is to identify what each character's motives were for being in the story to begin with. The Tin Man wanted a heart, and he got one. The Wicked Witch wanted to eat Toto or whatever, so she melted. The Munchkins wanted to be saved from the Wicked Witch, and presumably that happened when the Witch died. Not much of this needed a lot of writing. The few things that were resolved 'on screen' were sufficient to resolve all the significant characters' purposes either explicitly (the melting) or implicitly (the Munchkins)...or they just weren't issues needing much attention at all because the character concerned's motivation was not significant as a part of the story (Toto, the Flying Monkeys, etc)

  3. #3
    Maybe what you need is to combine characters or have less characters so that you can develop them. A mistake might have been to have to many characters. If this is the same script they could have made a good point. It is tough to say what the solution might be if there are any. Ask them if that could help.
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  4. #4
    Yes this is the same story. It's mainly the group of villains that the readers say I should establish a backstory for each one of them, but that would take way too long for just one screenplay though. Other movies have groups of villains in, where not every one has a backstory though. One reader also said that I should give one of the villains a bigger pay off in the story, but that would take too long and drive the ending in a whole different direction though. But the reader said she found this villain to be the most interesting of all and therefore I should do it. But in order to not have the reader expect this character to have a big pay off, should I try to make the character less interesting therefore? Or probably not, but still not create a false expectation.

    There is also another subplot character, that the readers want to have a bigger plot out of, but again, why overuse a subplot character, after the subplots job is done, and to do more with that character has no place in the pay off, I thought was best.

  5. #5
    It doesn't have to be a backstory but it has to be a life. These characters need to feel alive. If they don't, then they are not fleshed out enough. You don't want to make characters less interesting, you want them to be more interesting. You want people to want to watch them. Otherwise, why bother?

  6. #6
    Oh okay, well the characters are going around committing these bad crimes, so I thought they felt alive in that sense, but they do wear masks a lot of the time while doing so, so it's hard to reveal emotion in the face therefore if it's a movie. But how can I get the reader to not want to many pay offs, with too many characters then?

  7. #7
    Creating a back story BEFORE you write a character will tend to limit you. Create great characters, and add back story when you need it it.
    Otherwise, all that character outlining can get in the way.

    You really don't know your characters until you have written those first 100 pages.

  8. #8
    Oh okay. The script has not made it to 100 pages long, but it's over 90 with all the rewrites I have done so far.

  9. #9
    The readers don't need to know about a character's backstory, but the writer DOES need to know or at the least have an idea of the character's life. If you don't know a character (we're talking influential characters) then you can't maintain a clear narrative about that character. You can't write their quirks or idiosyncrasies that turns characters from 2d into 3d if you don't know where those ticks come from and how it developed.
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  10. #10
    Main characters, sure, they have some backstory that needs to be told.

    Beyond that, minor characters have temperament, attitude, ways of speaking that are unique - these things spring from their FOO and backstory. In your writing, be it novel or movie script, you don't need to write about their past - all it needs (IMO) is to show up in attitude.

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