General Hooha,  Writing stories

Plotting a backstory: Mystery of the Lost Object

As preparation for a series of units on writing, I approached well known science fiction and mystery author Ron Goulart for advice. He’s written something like a billion books, plus he’s got an amazing, self-deprecating sense of humor which is very Philip Marlowe.

Writers are like magicians. They know all the sneaky ways of making people believe their stories. The biggest trick by far is assembling a backstory which is all the stuff the readers are not privy to. In the case of the Mystery of the Lost Object, this means that even though the readers don’t know where it might be located or how it might be found, the writer does.

The Uncle Scrooge stories of Carl Barks are filled with lost objects. Lost cities, lost diamonds, lost maps. Sometimes Scrooge himself loses something, like for instance, his lucky dime. This very personal loss is where I chose to build our backstory template:

  1. Draw the main character. Outline his personality. Draw some friends. Draw some enemies.
  2. What does the main character own that’s most important to him or to her? Draw that. Why is it so important? (Valuable? Part of something that won’t work otherwise? Does it have sentimental value?)
  3. How was it lost? Who lost it? Where was it lost? Where is it now? The writer has to know EVERYTHING, even if the characters don’t. Answer these questions by DRAWING THE ANSWER.
  4. Look at what you’ve drawn and draw some possible clues to help find the object.
  5. Finally, draw a map from clue to clue until your character finds the object. Think of obstacles that might stop your character, but of course, the character manages to find the clues, and eventually the lost object, anyhow.

Writing isn’t something a kid coming into an art class wants to do, by and large. So I’ve tried to construct a visual backstory the kids can draw. I think the final product can take many forms.

I put together a packet so the kids could do sort of a fill in the blanks sort of thing, but I’m not altogether happy with the results. I’m posting the sheets anyhow, because it’s still visual, and gives at least some kind of idea of writing a backstory using pictures.

Drawing hints…objects, people, whatever


An example of how to set up areas of the backstory
A very rudimentary story map