Back Story In a Sentence

We have just finished watching the excellent British TV series Broadchurch.  It dealt with rape but it was not preachy while showing how families were affected, girls especially. It turned out there were a series of rapes, most unreported because of the shame the women felt until the woman around whom the story was centred, reported her experience. She went through the horror that most rape victims experience….her past sexual history being dragged up, her behaviour which made many draw the conclusion she asked for it, and all the invasive examinations she had to endure.

There were two things that impressed me about this production. The fact that they had the courage to deal with a highly sensitive subject without over-playing it was one. The other was the dialogue.

This series was all about dialogue and its many inflections that gave us more than the immediate meaning. It also gave us inflections and detail beyond the words.

One instance of this remains with me as an example of sublime dialogue.

The investigators visited the home of a man who had come under the radar and interviewed his wife.

This is how she described their relationship.

“He was going to be a doctor and won a scholarship to go to medical school. But then I got pregnant…”

The entire relationship was captured by that line: the father’s fractured relationship with his son, the anger towards the woman and the woman’s powerlessness. Circumstances had betrayed them all.

I won’t go into the emotional dynamics between these three people as they were one of many characters with links to the crime.

However, the next piece of dialogue that was outstanding was that of the young man who committed several unreported rapes and was convicted of grooming a young man to become a rapist.

“It was just sex. She’d had it before so it was nothing new to her.”

Every value and every emotional lack within that young man is captured by that line of dialogue. It also gave the viewer insight into an attitude that was shocking.

I didn’t intend for this blog to be about rape but it triggered an awareness that this serious lack of respect for women is revealed in a large number of pieces of research. One of these reports is in the Conversation but is by no means the only study that reveals a view that women ask for it by their behaviour, say ‘no’ when they really mean ‘yes’ and that they are not worth respecting.

This programme skilfully handled all these truly sensitive topics in a way that engaged the viewer without sermonising. They had excellent actors, men and women, who revealed all these attitudes in one way or another.

It was subtle but also extremely powerful. It’s worth studying a series like Broadchurch for the script-writer’s skill. It is truly an example of less is more.


writing about rape. character


We need a like button.

This is a perfect example of how to add back story to your characters. Thanks, Suraya.