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And, sometimes, you need to write these things into your screenplay. Many times, the audience won’t understand what’s going on - if they don’t have a crucial piece of information. If they don’t know about an event that happened in the past, long before the screenplay ‘started.’

When you create a history for your characters (or world), that’s called backstory.

Backstory is anything that happened before your main narrative starts.

The most common form of backstory is, obviously, the flashback. Flashbacks were created for the sole purpose of telling backstory.

But, flashbacks aren’t the only way to get backstory across to your audience.

For instance, you can have one of your characters mention what happened! This is also called exposition. But, you can literally just have one of your characters say ‘I dated your sister in college,’ or whatever it is you want to get across.

You could put up a superimposed title, like the Star Wars opening crawl. You could mention a prop or an item of set-decoration that automatically tells the story. You can do lots of things. Just make sure your characters have detailed histories and backstories. Even if you don’t use them in the script.

Slumdog Millionaire is an interesting one - as virtually the entire story is told via backstory.

The audience starts off knowing that the protagonist is accused of cheating on a game show and the entire plot revolves around his recounting of events that led him to knowing the answers to the million-dollar questions. The entire thing is backstory. Scene after scene of backstory.

And, just look at how well they pull it off!

Having so much exposition and backstory could really backfire horrifically. It could be extremely boring for the audience. But, not here! The screenwriter has made sure to keep each story exciting or engaging or heart-breaking. You won’t have nearly as much backstory as Slumdog Millionaire, but try to make what little you have every bit as engaging and watchable.

Back-Story

Screenwriting 101:

PROPER SCREENPLAY FORMAT

SCREENWRITING SOFTWARE

SCREENPLAY TEMPLATE

SAMPLE SCREENPLAY PAGES

BEGINNER SCREENWRITERS

FILM SCHOOLS

SCREENWRITING DEGREES

SCREENPLAY STORY STRUCTURE

HOW LONG SHOULD EACH ACT BE?

THREE ACT STRUCTURE

START WRITING NOW

STORY-STRUCTURE TEMPLATE

THE FIRST TURNING POINT

THE SECOND TURNING POINT

PROTAGONIST’S CHARACTER-ARC

GET COVERAGE


FORWARD

You aren’t just telling the story that happens in your screenplay - you are oftentimes telling the story of what happened before your first scene.

Often events that happened in the past can come back to haunt your characters. A relationship that was cordial in the past, might be violent today. Things change.

When the Entire Movie is Backstory:

In Memento, there is no backstory! Well, not really, but kind of.

The main-character can’t form new memories, so the entire movie’s about him trying to piece together his own backstory. But, he doesn’t know if that backstory is true or not.

So, the entire plot forms backwards. Each piece of new information about the past - propels the narrative forward in the future.


When Memento came out, everyone was shocked and thought it was ground-breaking and new. They all seemed to think that the narrative structure was different than normal Hollywood movies.

But, that’s not the case.

Memento follows the exact same three-act structure that I’m teaching you here. There was nothing new there - except for the idea of having a normal narrative unfold backwards in time. It was still the same old formula Hollywood has been using for over a century now.

Christopher Nolan just did it in a unique and interesting way - and everyone was tricked into thinking it was new and had never been seen before. Just a simple twist and he was able to convince the audience that the ordinary was the extraordinary!

That’s what you should aim for!

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