Back to the Backstory

I love a good backstory. It’s surprising. It’s scintillating. It takes the hard edges of a story and makes them soft.

ESPN and former Sports Illustrated writer, Rick Reilly, is the master of the backstory. I was reminded of it again when I read this. It’s the story of Chris Paul, the NBA star, who lost his beloved grandfather to a brutal beating by some early teen-aged hoodlums, just to get the man’s wallet.

The surprising part is the backstory about Chris Paul himself. The backstory is about Paul’s grief; about his humility; about his compassion. He was the president of his high school class three years running. He’s the one other people want around at important moments of life. And now, even though some of the criminals have been sentenced to life in prison, he wants the people who killed his grandfather to be set free.

He hates that they’re in prison. He hates that they will never see the outside world again. He hates that their lives are ruined.

It’s surprising. It’s scintillating. It takes the hard edges off of the story and makes them soft.

I’m the last person in the world to care one whit about NBA basketball. I don’t like the personalities. I don’t like the perceived laziness. I just don’t like the game.

But through the backstory of Chris Paul, Rick Reilly has made me care. He’s made me care about at least one NBA player who seems to be a genuinely good guy. I don’t necessarily agree with what Paul is pushing for, but it’s not mine to have a say one way or another. It was Chris’s grandfather that was murdered. Not mine.

I found all that surprising and scintillating. It took the hard edges off of just another NBA story and made them soft enough for me to care.

It’s an important lesson for writers and creatives:

  • Dig a little bit
  • Everyone has a story
  • People love stories
  • Stories connect
  • Stories draw people in
  • Surprising stories bring surprising reactions from readers

Go check out Rick Reilly’s writing. It’s filled with wonderful backstories.

Someday I’ll tell you the backstory about the mini-bike crash that made me lie to my parents. It’s surprising. It’s scintillating. It takes the hard edges of a story and makes them soft.

What’s a good backstory you’ve heard? How do you use backstories to enhance your creativity?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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4 thoughts on “Back to the Backstory

  1. It is just a really good reminder that underneath all the 'stuff', there are real people, not much different than us, who are just as in need, and capable of so much more grace and wisdom.

  2. Scripture is full of hints at backstory … some of which are begging to be unpacked.

    One example: the anointing of Jesus for burial by Mary (John 12). The backstory is John 11—the raising of Lazarus. The only reason anyone would have "extra nard" around the house (a costly extravagance) is if it suddenly wasn't needed for a recent burial of a loved one. Hmmm. But that sort of thing (suddenly not needing nard for a recent burial) doesn't happen, does it. Unless someone had raised the loved one from the grave.

    Part of the backstory is that Mary is offering to Jesus what she no longer needed for her brother. It is a thank offering—thanks for new life.

    It's fun to search for those interesting backstories through Scripture!