Stories we tell ourselves

Recently, my husband and I watched a movie version of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “WHO AM I THIS TIME?” with Susan Sarandon and Christopher Walken. Christopher Walken’s character, Harry, is so shy he only talks to women if he’s “in character” in a play. No one really tries to connect with him until Susan Sarandon’s character arrives in town with the phone company. It’s an endearingly awkward tale that shows how our internal narrative affects our view of ourselves and others.

It’s a joy to watch the characters in “WHO AM I THIS TIME?” give up the old “truths” and find a way to live that’s the envy of the whole town. This is a classic way to create an interesting fictional character.

The Reverse Backstory Tool is a fun and effective way to create a character who’s ready to jump into a story and bring it alive. It’s a handy bookkeeping tool for the relationship between the character’s external and internal goals, the character traits that will help or get in the way, and the lie that the character must disprove in order to win.

Click to download a PDF of the tool Reverse Backstory Tool – Becca Puglisi

I found another example of “The Stories We Tell Ourselves” in The Church at the Well podcast series. Kevin Fitton talks about “I’m Too Busy.” He connects the leisure time research of Professor John P. Robinson (University of Maryland) and Brigid Shulte’s OVERWHELMED to the Biblical story of Mary and Martha.

The “I’m Too Busy” lie has so much potential for rich characters. Harry acts out a version in the hardware store and in the theater. He uses his activity on- and off-stage as a shield.

What are your favorite stories where characters grow and change? Have you ever rooted for a character to overcome that blind-spot?

Source: The Reverse Backstory Tool appears in Appendix B of THE NEGATIVE TRAIT THESAURUS by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

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Laurel Decher

LAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include "Stretchy the Leech" and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She's famous for a nonexistent sense of direction, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. When she's not lost, she can be found on Twitter and on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany. She's still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale! :) Her short fiction for adults, UNFORESEEN TIMES, originally appeared in _Windhover_. Photo: © Jane Joo Park, 2017.

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