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"Is dark backstory a necessity?", 10 days ago, 9:45 AM #1
TheStrangerous

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Trying to think of any protagonist WITHOUT one is hard...

It's true, that everyone experiences dark stuff IRL. But perhaps there are some likeable characters without dark backstory?
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10 days ago, 10:02 AM #2
mr.Trouble
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Frodo, Spiderman, Neo, Forrest Gump, Tyler Durden, Walter White, etc etc etc...
You can even have a character with a dark present without a dark past.

E: John McClane, Steven Universe, Mega Man, Arthur Dent (up until the earth explodes I guess), Saitama are some more, I could keep going lol
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10 days ago, 10:13 AM #3
TheStrangerous

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One would argue that Peter Parker had rough childhood, bullied nerd without parents and Mr. Anderson having boring office life (but I guess that's neutral?).

But good point about dark present, especially Frodo.
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10 days ago, 10:27 AM #4
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Depends on what you consider "dark." A character generally either has had a challenging past that they're finally motivated to move beyond, or they've had a charmed life that comes crashing down and forces them to acknowledge something about the world or about life that they'd previously been ignoring or unexposed to (I.E., Frodo and Bilbo).

The important thing is that the character has to change, and for that to be true of them, something about who they were has to need changing. That doesn't mean a "dark" past, but it does mean they weren't living properly before.
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10 days ago, 10:45 AM #5
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mr.Trouble:Frodo, Spiderman, Neo, Forrest Gump, Tyler Durden, Walter White, etc etc etc...
You can even have a character with a dark present without a dark past.


Spiderman's parents died and he got his uncle killed! Gump couldn't walk without leg braces and was raised by a poor single mother, Plus everyone called him dumb and he only ahd one friend, Walter White was forced out of his company before it became a huge success and he had to live on the salary of an average teacher while his former partners became multi millionaires. Tyler Durden was created from somebody's traumatised mind. Neo's obsession with the world being wrong made him an isolated weirdo with no friends who never slept.

Yea, there's only Frodo in that list.

What about Sarah Connor? Before robots came back to kill her she was just partying with Ginger and working at the diner.
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10 days ago, 12:56 PM #6
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I think there's a blurred line between a dark past, and hardships/trials/conflict which have shaped that individual. I think that the second one might be required to make a character feel like a complete person.

So Bilbo might have had an idyllic life, buuuuut there's also that hint of conflict in him, that there is an adventurous nature in one side of his family and in a sense he's hiding from his destiny.

Just thinking about the main characters of my comics, it's about an even split between people who have had sad pasts and people who have had fairly nice pasts?

In The Art of Monsters Hui has a dark past as she's a repentant monster who used to eat people. Wu Huan...


In Breaking the Lore, Estrith had a long and happy life doing a job she loved. The only "conflict" is that she might have liked to have children, but it's not something that really impacts her happiness... until she gets her wish, and that's what the story is about!

The Trapper Lad is one long dark backstory ;D

Aaaaand in Earth in a Pocket, Halisi has had a successful career and a family who love her, however she's got a tinge of a dark backstory going on:
10 days ago, 1:06 PM #7
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Maybe backstory is just story, after all. One can either tell it starting from birth, or tell it in flashback.
10 days ago, 1:12 PM #8
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Not always. In fact, some of the worst villains I have ever seen (including in real life) had extremely good lives and became evil due to having a sense of entitlement and becoming so greedy from having it so good. Dark backstories don't always produce villains. They have a good chance of producing a hero because bad experiences can teach a person humility and empathy.
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10 days ago, 1:24 PM #9
B.W.K.

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I don't always think its necessary. In my stories, more times than not, my protagonist had a pretty normal upbringing but something in the present times is what provides their hero motivation. However, some of my side characters have some sad beginnings...

I think people use a dark past to make a character more interesting or explain why a certain character is the way they are and often times it works, but I think you could also do it with events in the present as well.
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10 days ago, 2:04 PM #10
CrosEL

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TheStrangerous:Trying to think of any protagonist WITHOUT one is hard...

It's true, that everyone experiences dark stuff IRL. But perhaps there are some likeable characters without dark backstory?


Yes.

It's mostly a action oriented thing to have dark backstories, but that doesn't mean the character would be likeable... (Literally every Batman villain has a messed up backstory, and WOULD be a protagonist of their own, but I think it's safe to say not all of them are likeable/be a protagonist people would want to follow...) Back to protagonists: The best example I can think of is from: Lucky*Star: The main characters are fun to watch, and none of them had dark backstories. Again, I think Dark backstories is almost exclusively a action thing trope, but I've been able to write plenty of stuff with protagonists who're new to dark stuff...
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10 days ago, 2:25 PM #11
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technically, no, you don't absolutely need a dark backstory. if you're writing a colorful, blissfully happy story for kids, you might not want to go there.


in practice, it happens far too often, for several reasons. as Leafa said, there's often a lack of distinction between actually tragic events, and plain old conflict, which doesn't have to be dark.

there's also a trend of writing protagonists (whether they're heroes or regular people) as sad losers to make sure the viewer feels better than them, especially in the last few decades. I don't like that. what happened to characters who inspire awe and admiration? no character should bend over backwards to satisfy a common muggle's need for validation. this goes way past the underdog archetype and straight into humiliation.

depending on the writer, you can also attribute that to a misplaced sense of realism (especially in a fantasy story), or the idea that darkness is inherently more interesting.


but the trope itself isn't negative or positive. once again, execution is what really matters. you can do what I mentioned above, or you can use it in an interesting way. with the right writer, tragic backstories can create a powerful bond between several characters (like everyone in Luffy's crew, including Luffy himself).

in superhero comics (which often blur the line between tragedy and conflict, btw), dead parents are really just a convenient excuse to have the protagonist on their own. tragic events from the past are generally one of the things that motivate someone to become a hero once they get their powers, because apparently altruism doesn't happen naturally. fair enough, but those tropes really became clichés over the years.


basically, go ahead and write dark backstories if you want to, but don't pander to the "we only want protagonists who are worse than us" crowd.

personally, I lean towards characters who have an alright backstory, and who only start experiencing serious conflict (dark or otherwise) in the present. I mean, isn't that how many stories begin?
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10 days ago, 2:52 PM #12
mr.Trouble
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The Letter M:Spiderman's parents died and he got his uncle killed! Gump couldn't walk without leg braces and was raised by a poor single mother, Plus everyone called him dumb and he only ahd one friend, Walter White was forced out of his company before it became a huge success and he had to live on the salary of an average teacher while his former partners became multi millionaires. Tyler Durden was created from somebody's traumatised mind. Neo's obsession with the world being wrong made him an isolated weirdo with no friends who never slept.

Yea, there's only Frodo in that list.

What about Sarah Connor? Before robots came back to kill her she was just partying with Ginger and working at the diner.


I was probably wrong about Spiderman, I don't know his story so well lol
Tyler Durden didn't really have a tragic backstory, the dark things that happen to him happen during the movie's plot, not before it. Neo I feel kind of just had a boring life, not a tragic or dark one, Walter's is kind of just a bummer but it's not that bad, and in my personal opinion I don't think being kinda bullied and having a disability counts for a "dark backstory" but maybe that's just me. I mean very few characters have great pasts but I don't think they're too bad.
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10 days ago, 4:26 PM #13
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Depends on what the story's about, largely if it's about the character changing their own circumstances or a character adapting.

On the extreme ends: A story like Cinderella is about a character in bad circumstances getting out of those. We root for them because we want things to get better.

A story like Toy Story (the first one) is about a character adapting to new circumstances. We root for them because we want them to change for the better.

And sometimes a story has both, and there'll be more nuance to both their circumstances and how they change. But honestly, how dark a backstory is can come down to presentation. Having a character with a perfect childhood is boring. Having a character with a insanely tragic backstory can be unrealistic.
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10 days ago, 6:02 PM #14
ShaRose49

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Everyone goes through some hard stuff at some point, but it doesn’t have to be super dark. However, if you’re writing an action story I think just because of the nature of that genre it might be odd if none of the main characters had ever (or never do) experienced some kind of dark tragedy. I feel like the audience is expecting at least a little bit of that. Maybe you could make a more interesting character in the action genre if you didn’t give him/her a dark backstory, or by giving a character in a cozy little slice-of-life story a dark backstory it might be considered more interesting simply because it’s unusual, however these are just random ideas, and you would need to see if they make sense in the story before you write any backstory.

If you’re counting my three MCs, Kat, Evan, and Kairo, I’d say two of them have dark backstories (murdered mother, abusive parents) and one of them has something of a tragic one (mother walked out on her) but I wouldn’t say it’s dark, or at least not in a cliche’ dark and brooding way. It’s kind of hard to avoid having some dark backstories when you’re writing in the superhero genre, but I think what’s most important is to have a well-developed character, so that even if the backstory is cliche’, it still feels real.

I think most of the heroes who will b ein the story later on won’t have dark backstories, so there’s that. Doesn’t mean dark stuff won’t happen to anyone though.

So in conclusion, no, I don’t think it’s a necessity, but it can up the stakes a bit, that’s for sure.
10 days ago, 6:14 PM #15
mightguy15

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TheStrangerous:Trying to think of any protagonist WITHOUT one is hard...

It's true, that everyone experiences dark stuff IRL. But perhaps there are some likeable characters without dark backstory?


Character is mainly about personality for me. Hardly to I ever judge a character based on their past, similar to real life. It's about what they are now, not what they were.

After all, that is the purpose of a backstory, to display what happened to the character that evolved them into what they are now.

My question is, what exactly do you mean by "dark backstory". My character Tsokaka grew up without parents (his mother died at conception and his father abandoned him when he felt he would be too weak to bother with and didn't want him to become a burden) getting his ass kicked by his wolf best friend (who was in a similar situation and decided to take him in and train him to become a wolf) and it transformed him into a powerful fighter. I wouldn't exactly call that dark. Maybe rough. What's your gripe? Do you feel it's too mainstream?

Merged Doublepost:

MisterParadigm:Depends on what you consider "dark." A character generally either has had a challenging past that they're finally motivated to move beyond, or they've had a charmed life that comes crashing down and forces them to acknowledge something about the world or about life that they'd previously been ignoring or unexposed to (I.E., Frodo and Bilbo).

The important thing is that the character has to change, and for that to be true of them, something about who they were has to need changing. That doesn't mean a "dark" past, but it does mean they weren't living properly before.


Welp, you pretty much explained exactly what I was trying to correlate, lol. i wish I would have seen your comment sooner.
10 days ago, 8:24 PM #16
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I feel like there's also an arc that's centered around a lack of dark backstory, specifically: Character who's never known hardship is thrust into struggle for the first time

Varients include "they were the perfect happy family UNTIL", "Spoiled rich kid sees how the other half lives", and "wide eyes idealist has to deal with those ideals being broken" (Of course, this often is centered around a character who's only been sheltered from one type of harship, most commonly, the rich kid who's had everything they wanted besides *love*)

And of course, there's room for characters who've just... had it pretty good. I think Wolfe from the webcomic Widdershins is a good example of this. He's naturally talented at almost everything he tries, handsome, charming, and also a genuinely decent human being. Even when bad thing do happen, he's optimistic and forgiving. (I mean, we don't know much about his life, but if he has a sad backstory, we haven't heard it, and the plot hasn't needed it)

A character like this doesn't stand on his own much for anything other than wish fulfillment (Nancy Drew and James Bond don't need angst, they need a cool mission) but, done well, it can make a good foil. Wolfe serves as a stabilizing force for his more negative and volatile companion, which also means he can serve as a destabilizing one. And he serves as an object of jealousy, his ease with every task pushing a villainous foil to increasingly unfair means to keep up.
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10 days ago, 10:01 PM #17
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Define 'dark' because everyone on this planet has experienced some form of hardship, real or imagined.
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10 days ago, 10:37 PM #18
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If it's a lighthearted story, no it's not neccessary. If it's a heavy storyline it only makes sense. If it's a somewhat normal/balanced storyline I'd say it would be weird for a character to not have had anything bad happen to them. "Dark" obviously changes it's meaning depending on who you ask.

I think it just adds more depth to characters, and usually you get behaviours that are either good or problematic from bad events, which makes the characters more human and more relatable if they're not 100% perfect and free from all problems.
That's of course just my take on it.
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10 days ago, 11:01 PM #19
swamp
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I demand to know the tragic past of every character in Friends.
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9 days ago, 1:23 AM #20
mr.Trouble
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Ross' parents died when he was 5 and it was his own fault because he couldn't control his powers
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Forum > Webcomic & Art discussion > Is dark backstory a necessity?
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