Character Development and Backstory
D.A. Dean

Know Your Character to the Marrow

I DVR’d the first season of Endeavour. Good decision. An all-’round fabulous series.
So, why not just tweet that? Why, instead, use that as the opening for a blog entry? Simple: as did the pilot episode, Endeavour, season 1, reminded me of the power of backstory. It reinforced to me the benefits of the writer’s knowing his/her main characters through and through–to the marrow–and the effect this can and should have on the viewer/reader, as well as on the story as a whole.
In this prequel to Inspector Morse, not only are the writers and the actor developing a thoroughly believable and compelling stand-alone character, they’re adding a layer, delving deeply into the backstory of a pre-existing, mightily-complex fictional being. And it’s powerful stuff. (I again must tip my hat to Colin Dexter, creator of Morse, and to the writers of the TV adaptations, who so deftly balanced disclosing enough to make us care and letting linger, half-hidden, enough to make us wonder.)
Like many other readers/viewers who enjoy character-driven stories, once my interest in a character is awakened, I want to know more.  And more. Not all at once, of course. Revelations, in fiction as in life, are best and most effectively offered, for my taste, a bit at a time, allowed to breathe, given time to blossom or to burn through metal, so to speak. And just as a discovery concerning someone well know to you can have profound effects, a discovery about a carefully-studied character–provided it’s a revelation that can be traced to a thread within the established tapestry–can evoke intense emotion.
As a reader and a viewer, I hunger for knowledge of characters’ inner workings. This isn’t to say I want a character study to the exclusion or detriment of plot progression.  Nor is this to say I need or even want to know all of a character’s secrets. But I want to feel with absolute certainty the writer does. For me, you see, it’s when well-paced and well-executed plot pairs with characters who are fully alive, ah, there’s the path to catharsis.
PS Though I easily figured out which character was the killer in episode 2, “Fugue,” (the actor allowed it to show through rather sharply), it didn’t matter–because I was so invested in the main character and the intricacies of his development. And near the end, there was a moment between Endeavour and his mentor that was so perfectly, achingly earned in the episode itself, so exquisitely, poignantly connected and revelatory to Morse’s older self…a few minutes later as the credits rolled, I did, in fact, have to wipe away tears.

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