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?