Sam explains how to play backstory

Words by Samuel Maguire

Pictures by Lucy O’Doherty

Published on June 8, 2012

Writers are a breed apart. We are fuelled on troubles and fun is our Kryptonite. We think we are great for being terrible and if you are having fun with it all then who the hell do you think you are?

The path to becoming a writer is different for each person. One of the things you need is backstory. If you do not have backstory then you are a baby and should not be reading anything from the internet.

You will need exactly one trouble per short story you write. For novels you will need as many troubles as you have characters. If you cannot think of troubles you have to think smaller. Every day brings new challenges that you can be terrible at. Every meal you cook is not fit for children and every cigarette you roll will get you teased by rock stars. Make a list. Now stop making a list you are making me sad.

You may find, however, that you do not have a sufficiently troubled backstory to warrant wanting to live your life in the land of fiction. Maybe you were a well-adjusted rich kid who knew how to talk to girls. I have a solution for you. It is a game that can be played any time you want to have feelings about yourself. It is played with a set of ornate, metal ten-sided dice that you payed seventy bucks for at a store where grown men pretend to be wizards before you realised you can get them from China for four cents.

Here we go for…


BACKSTORY: The Board Game

Teach yourself to read at three years old. Your parents are UNCOMFORTABLE. Move forward two spaces.

Get in a giant school fight when you are five. Add MARTIAL ARTS to your THINGS YOU WILL NEVER BE GOOD AT box. Roll again.

Become friends with the only kid in Grade Two that still cries when his mother drops him off at school. Progress along the WEIRD KID SHORTCUT and pick up as many HANG UPS as you can.

Use parents splitting up as an excuse to get out of Grade Three homework. Milk it for six months. Pick up the TROUBLED card. You can play this card at any time to get out of WORK, RELATIONSHIPS or FAMILY DINNERS.

Tell Grade Four teacher that you hallucinated writing the day’s work. Every other player is now UNCOMFORTABLE. Move forward two spaces.

Teacher yells at you because you are eleven and still cannot colour between the lines. Add ART to your THINGS YOU WILL NEVER BE GOOD AT box. Roll again.

Get a book about The Hindenburg for your Grade Seven graduation present. Add (5) DEATH DOLLARS to your WORRY HOLLOW. Move forward two spaces.

Grade Eight English teacher takes a liking to you because you are COMPLICATED. You can now convert any TROUBLE BUCKS you have earned into SHITTY SHORT STORIES WHERE THE MAIN CHARACTER DIES. These are useless. Move forward two spaces.

High school girlfriend breaks up with you after three days. Twice. Add any amount of ANGST POEMS to your SHAME WALLET. Go back two spaces.

Automatically gravitate to the group of students who respect MENTAL DISORDERS more than any other thing. Add ALCOHOLISM to your INTERESTS. Move forward two spaces.

Have sex in high school. Who are you kidding? Roll again.

Get a C- for your last short story for high school English. They do not UNDERSTAND you. Go back two spaces.

Fail to get into the Airforce because you cannot afford a tie and never played football in high school. You have dodged (1) BULLET. Forward two spaces.

You are on the UNIVERSITY HOME STRETCH! If you can go for (3) YEARS without FLIPPING THE FUCK OUT you win! It is impossible to do so.

…and there you have it! Be careful. It is a game that is impossible to win but possible to lose if you accidentally end up with a teaching degree.

Sam Maguire is a writer from Circumstances, Ipswich. He has enough brain problems to keep making funny jokes and enough dark tragic secrets to keep him drinking, smoking and looking tortured. He is the first writer to be featured in our Struggling Writers Residencies and also hosts the Stilts Book Club.