Re’s Backstory


This comic was created as part of a participatory storytelling project for my Digital Storytelling class. We began by working together to write a story using Twitter.

This was the first time I have really used Twitter, and I found it easier than I had anticipated, but also frustrating. There was much more I wanted to add to the story than I was able to, especially in terms of details. I felt frustrated during the group writing process because although to me Twitter seems like a medium that lends itself to action, many of the lines submitted by my classmates did little to move the plot forward.

I also felt frustrated with Twitter because it was often difficult to figure out what had just been said. That meant the story line was often disregarded.


After the completion of the group story, we were asked to produce an accompanying artifact that somehow added depth to the story we had created. For my project I chose to experiment with a new (to me) program called Pixton to create a comic strip.

This was my first time using any kind of software like this, so it took me some time to figure everything out. There are a lot of different buttons to do various things, and not all of the buttons are visible at the same time. That alone was frustrating. However, the most frustrating thing was probably trying to figure out how to re-position the characters.

I envisioned a larger project than I was able to produce. Unfortunately, because I was using the free version, I was restricted to just nine blocks. My intention had been to show the initial tragedy in Re’s life and to go on to show her first meeting with Kes. Due to the limitations on the free version of the software, only the initial tragedy is shown.

Another thing I did not care for about this software was that I did not have the option to easily incorporate any kind of narration. For example, I wanted to include some kind of back story to set the stage or some narration to transition between panels. Because of the software limitations, I was forced to think more visually about how to frame my story.

This was an interesting experience, and working with a comic strip format reminded me a bit of working with Twitter because I had to simplify my ideas and think carefully about the most efficient way to express them.

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7 thoughts on “Re’s Backstory

  1. Throughout the several iterations of this project over the years, this is the first time than anyone has attempted creating a backstory. I find this very compelling for several reasons, the chief one being that the story began with no sense of backstory at all–basically, we were dropped into the middle of a scene about which we knew nothing and from which we had to discern motives, plot, etc. Creating a backstory gives us a sense of what brought us to that point–and this is a very powerful backstory that you’ve created. I suspect this is what writers must go through when they create longer narratives. They may not explicitly recount a backstory, but they create one to inform themselves of how characters might react or respond in their narratives. (As a somewhat tangentially related aside–Christopher Guest’s series of movies (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration) were enabled entirely through complex backstories but without scripts. The actors were told the backstories and improvised the movie dialog based on how those characters would respond to various stipulations. I find this fascinating. Great movies, too…)

    This is a particularly potent backstory–even given the limitations you mention in terms of length and flexibility–as it gives us all a sense of the issues that Re is facing, where her fears originated, and what she may be searching for. I’m not familiar with Pixton, but I think you’ve made good use of it for this purpose. Very nicely done.

  2. Awesome idea! I’ve never used Pixton, but now that I’ve seen your project, I must! My initial questions are: 1. How much choice did you have in the background of the cartoon? It matched up so well to the story. 2. About how long did it take for you to make this project? From the tone of your reflection, it sounds like it took more time than anticipated. 3. Where did you learn about Pixton? I would like my students to create some comics. If money wasn’t an issue, do you think it’s worth purchasing it?

    You might want to add a note somewhere above the comic that briefly explains how to flip through the story. It took me a second to figure out that I had to slide the comic to the left. I kept clicking on the Pixton icon, which took me to its web page.

    In my project, I created an ending using Storybird. We should combine our stories into one!

    1. Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for the feedback. I think you could use Pixton for your classes, especially if you spread it out over a couple of weeks, having students develop their story line, etc. and then used the comic as part of a final unit presentation. Once I got the hang of it, the work went fairly quickly. It just takes a little time to get used to manipulating all of the parts. If I were you, I might consider making the purchase. I can see how the program would be really useful, especially for learning about narrative or archetypes.

      Good tip about giving reading instructions. I will change that.
      Thank you!

  3. Carolyn,

    I liked the tool you used, only wished for more, though not at the expense of a paid version of the software. I get that. I like the look of the comic. Indeed I am a sucker for a graphic novel so I want this Pixton to be cool.

    Backstory was something I wanted for us to sketch at least, during the Tweet-a-thon, alas. So, it is nice to see you do it here. Two kinds of parental abandonment is a heavy load for Re. Again, I wished for more, what of my beloved Kes?

    I agree with Skip nice job.

  4. I really like your post! I never heard of Pixton before. Where did you find that tool? Even though you didn’t get to accomplish the whole part you wanted, I think the backstory you did include is very strong. It tells us a more about Re and where she comes from. When we started the story, we had no information on Re, and your backstory gives us a piece of her possible history. Nicely done!

  5. Pixton, another amazing tool discovered in this class.

    The idea of creating a backstory is fascinating as it shapes the final view of the character but in this case came post story. Reminds me of the Star Wars approach.

    Could you see Pixton as a tool for students? As someone who has used it, I am interested in learning if you would recommend it for student use.

  6. To your comment below, yes!

    “I felt frustrated during the group writing process because although to me Twitter seems like a medium that lends itself to action, many of the lines submitted by my classmates did little to move the plot forward. I also felt frustrated with Twitter because it was often difficult to figure out what had just been said. That meant the story line was often disregarded.”

    I hadn’t really identified that lack of action was an issue, but hearing you say it, I know it was something that I felt as well. I think in traditional writing rich description is key to creating characters and a world apart from our own. That methodology, however, seems to be far less accurate in Twitter, where the brevity of the post length really requires a lot to happen in 140 characters. I tend to be a descriptive writer, so I may have been guilty in holding up the action. 😉 I also heartily agree about the story line being disregarded. I think that was my biggest pet peeve in the process – I left a few carrots or things that could have been picked up and they were just left there. I did this, in part, because of the length, but in part because I wanted to see the story continue…

    Finally, I also wanted to identify the tragedy in Re’s back story, and did so by addressing the loss of her parents. Much as I commented on Kevin’s post, it is interesting to see how we recycle and repurpose (or remix) experiences in life we have seen (and maybe experienced) to address a fundamental need to explain “why” when it comes to Re’s backstory.

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