On Writing

Character Introductions: Backstrom

Bones is one of my favorite police procedurals, although not as dark as the richly-disturbing Criminal Minds, with humor, well-written characters, and charm.

Last night, Bones writer-producer Hart Hanson brought to life Detective Everett Backstrom, a Fox-TV series titled Backstrom based on a Swedish book series by Leif G.W. Persson.

Backstrom has a bit of a House feel to it, with the lead character, played marvelously by Rainn Wilson (The Office), and full of wonderful writing. For instance, we immediately understand Det. Backstrom has problems, quirks, and a biting humor.

Every story needs to introduce the main characters and this is often a tough process for a writer. A character needs to feel three-dimensional and alive. A long description of each certainly would lay out their foibles and tics. Describing each for their unique attributes, hair styles, and shower habits can be fun. However, character descriptions can tend to be like describing a photograph: sort of flat.

Dialogue is an excellent way to drop in character traits without dragging down the flow of the story. In the first episode of Backstrom, Hanson allows the two lead characters to provide an overview of the team:

Det. Nicole Gravely

All we have in this unit is each other.

Det. Lt. Everett Backstrom

Unit of losers.

John Almond is a burnt-out Jesus freak who’s totally lost his street smarts.


Almond’s a pastor on the weekends.


It’s true.


Almond is a pastor?


On the weekends!

He still has the highest conviction rate of any detective in the history of this bureau.


All the forensics geeks hate Niedermayer so much they pushed him onto the sunshine division.


Yeah, they hate him because they hate being corrected by a liaison, and he corrects them because he’s better at their jobs than they are.


And we already talked about you, horny little minx.

And what’s, uh… what’s Moto?

A short-bus cop?


Highly motivated to prove himself.


Uh-huh. And that wacky civilian french chick.

Never mind. I kind of dig her.

The dialogue furthers the impressions we have already made of each character and gives us more information. Who knew Det. Almond was a preacher? And Sergeant Peter Niedermayer may end up being the best written crime science geek since David Hodges (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation).

The point is, in one episode, all of the characters seem to be alive, full of personality, and we want to know more about them. Now, let’s see what trouble Hanson puts them into before Episode 13.

Do you have trouble dropping in rich character descriptions? What are some of the things you do to make your characters come to life? Write your thoughts in the comments below.

© 2015 – 2016, Michael Shawn Sommermeyer. All rights reserved.

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