Blog Post

Finding the Backstory

Aug 25th, 2015

While researching resources for developing the backstory of my Main Character, I found a wonderful explanation of the components of narrative in this article on Character Justifications from Melanie Anne Phillips:

The creation of Justification is the purpose of and reason for Backstory. The dismantling of Justification is the purpose and function of the Acts. The gathering of information necessary to dismantle Justification is the purpose and function of the Scenes.

When you understand the psychology behind Justification, you understand the mechanics of functional stories. Stories exist to take us through the Justification and Problem-Solving process. How does this mechanism apply to a character in your story?

when someone sees things differently than they are, they are Justifying. This can happen either because the mind draws a wrong conclusion or assumes, or because things actually change in a way that is no longer consistent with a held view.

Main Characters are blind to their own justifications. If they weren't they would solve them and go about their day. But they don't.

Thus, the need for story.

Stories exist to show us a greater Objective truth that is beyond our limited Subjective view. They exist to show us that if we feel something is a certain way, even based on extensive experience, it is possible that it really is not that way at all.

I love this explanation of story. Every great narrative--whether a novel, play or film--does this juxtaposition of the Objective vs. the Subjective. I'm trying to do this is my own story ... Fingers crossed it all plays out.

For the Pivotal Character, it will be shown that the way she believed things to be really IS the way they are in spite of evidence to the contrary.

Funny. You can tell this is an earlier article in the development of Dramatica. The "Pivotal Character" is now known as the Steadfast Character. I think Pivotal comes from Lajos Egri and his book, The Art of Dramatic Writing

I'm not sure if the rest of the description still holds up, though it is interesting to think that the struggle a Steadfast character faces rests in a lack of information of the present, rather than a misconception based in the past (where you would find justification showing up). It holds true with my current story and with other Steadfast characters that come to mind (Jake in Chinatown, Angiers in The Prestige and Forrest Gump). So it may be something to consider in the future.

For the Primary Character, it will be shown that things are really different than believed and the only solution is to alter one’s beliefs.

Primary Character == Changed Character.

to create a feeling of “completion” in an audience, if the Main Character is Pivotal, she MUST succeed by remaining Steadfast, and a Primary Main Character MUST change.

Not sure what I think about this. "Feeling of completion" sounds more like Story Judgment. The rest of the article tends to show its immaturity in the development of the theory. Will return to it later.