On the surface the character’s backstory is seemingly benign, but it has affected in a negative way how she views the world. No matter how riveting your plot line is, with all your conflict and tension, it is the character our readers are drawn to. Running along the external plot line is the inner plot, the gradual deep and fulfilling transformation the character undergoes as a result of her reactions to the actions within the external plot. Take for instance, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. At first, Scout is an insensitive, young girl who lacks empathy for others, due to her age and her own backstory of losing her mother at a young age. This backstory is not made a focus of the story, yet we know it is there, lurking in her background, contributing to her insensitivity and the manner in which she deals with the people around her. She shows no concern for her neighbor Boo’s feelings, accepting easily without question that he is a bad sort. Yet, through her experiences within the external plot line and her own inner struggles, later in the story she begins to wonder about Boo, why he likes staying shut up in his house and doesn’t try to change his situation. By the end of the story, she begins to show empathy through her emotional actions, therefore transforming from the flawed character she had been at the start of the story.
We all have backstory lurking within us. Our backstories affect who we are as human beings, the choices we make, the paths we create for ourselves. Recently, I took a course on “What it means to be human”, which focussed on the life of Robert “Nesta” Marley. At first I wondered why they picked him as a subject for this course, but by the end of the course I realized the reason. His beliefs and values created the person he came to be. Having lived in the Trench Town ghettos of Jamaica, witnessing the extreme economic and social injustices in which he and his family lived, he was constantly fighting the demons both hovering around him and those which dwelled within him. Calling out for equality and the right to human dignity for all people of all races, colors and cultures, he began to spread his messages through his music. The backstory of his life contributed to the man he ultimately became.
Our protagonists will overcome their flaws, transforming themselves through their experiences which we create in our stories, while connecting universally to the backstories of our readers and their own desire to transform. Although we don’t shed the backstory from our lives the way a snake sheds it’s skin, for it will always remain a part of who we are as human beings, but by learning through our experiences we have the power to transform in a big and powerful way.