40+ Sad Backstory Ideas for Your Character (2024)

sad backstory ideas

Looking for sad backstory ideas for your characters?

Read on for ideas like an aging bread earner’s job being replaced by an AI, a character who was once part of an unethical experiment, and many more!

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Sad Backstory Ideas

While sad backstory can vary depending on the context and storytelling, they can often be grouped into four common categories. These categories provide a framework for creating emotionally compelling character histories. Here are some ideas in each category.

Please note that the genders in these prompts and story ideas are just placeholders and do not mean to enforce any hurtful stereotypes nor offend anyone.

Sad backstory prompts

Here are some prompts that you can use to give your character layers of depth and authenticity to their journey.

  1. The Lost Melody: A renowned composer loses their ability to hear music after a tragic accident, leading to a deep depression and loss of purpose.

  2. The Dream Catcher: A person who has the ability to enter and manipulate dreams discovers they are unable to dream themselves, causing feelings of isolation and emptiness.

  3. The Tainted Gift: A child born with an extraordinary talent for painting realizes that their artwork has the power to bring their subjects to life, but every creation is, somehow, lifespan.

  4. The Forgotten Lighthouse: A lighthouse keeper spends their entire life alone, guiding ships to safety, only to be forgotten and abandoned when the lighthouse becomes automated.

  5. The Muted Voice: A gifted singer loses their voice in a traumatic event, leading to a profound loss of identity and a struggle to find alternative means of expression.

  6. The Broken Compass: A skilled navigator becomes disoriented after witnessing a devastating shipwreck, forever losing their sense of direction and purpose.

  7. The Vanishing Memory: A person wakes up one day with no recollection of their past, surrounded by evidence that they were once deeply connected to a powerful secret organization.

  8. The Silent Puppeteer: A puppeteer becomes trapped inside their own marionette creation, forced to perform and entertain others while unable to control their own actions or escape their wooden prison.

  9. The Eclipsed Star: A promising astronomer loses their sight, just as they discover an extraordinary celestial event that could change the course of scientific understanding forever.

  10. The Cursed Poet: A poet cursed with the inability to write anything other than heartbreaking and melancholic verses struggles to find joy and meaning in their craft.

  11. The Phantom Dancer: A professional ballet dancer loses a leg in an accident, but continues to dance in their dreams, caught between the beauty of their former life and the harsh reality of their new limitations.

  12. The Shadow Painter: A gifted artist discovers that every painting they create drains the life force of a living being, forcing them to choose between their art and the well-being of others.

  13. The Forgotten Muse: A muse who has inspired countless artists throughout history is suddenly abandoned, leaving them without purpose and fading into obscurity.

  14. The Whispering Woods: A person who can communicate with trees and plants witnesses the gradual destruction of their beloved forest, leading to a deep sense of helplessness and grief.

  15. The Fading Smile: A famous comedian loses their ability to make others laugh after a personal tragedy, struggling to find humor in a world that seems to have lost its light.

  16. The Shattered Reflection: A renowned mirror maker accidentally creates a cursed mirror that shows a distorted and tragic version of anyone who looks into it, leading to a crisis of conscience and regret.

  17. The Broken Clockwork: A master clockmaker creates a clockwork companion that develops sentience, but is plagued by glitches that cause intense emotional pain and confusion.

  18. The Endless Rain: A person who has the power to control the weather inadvertently causes a never-ending rainstorm that floods their hometown, leading to guilt and isolation.

  19. The Forsaken Healer: A gifted healer loses their ability to cure others after failing to save the life of a loved one, questioning their purpose and the true nature of their abilities.

  20. The Fading Star: A once-famous actor, now aging and forgotten, struggles with their fading career and battles with addiction, desperately seeking one final chance at redemption on the stage.

    RELATED: The Only Character Workbook You’ll Ever Need

Relating to loss and grief

Explore ideas relating to the impact of significant losses and the grief associated with them, which can shape a character’s worldview and drive their motivations.

  1. The death of a lover, a pet, a parent, a young child, a cherished sibling, a beloved grandmother, you get the idea.

  2. When a character experiences the death of a loved one, the grief can be profound. However, when multiple deaths occur within a character’s life, the impact can be exponentially magnified. For example, the deaths of a character’s closed ones due to an association with a cult. Or the deaths of a character’s closed ones due to a war.

  3. The death or life-altering injury of a teammate, a roommate, a combat mate, a coworker, etc, which led to a character’s survivor’s guilt.

  4. A natural disaster which destroyed a character’s life, their childhood home and their entire possession.

  5. A man-made disaster (oil spill, war, etc) which destroyed a character’s livelihood and life.

  6. A tragic traffic accident which took away a character’s special ability or gift.

  7. A devastating illness or injury which took away someone’s autonomy or special ability.

  8. The loss of a prized possession, for example, losing innocence, a prized jewelry, or a family heirloom.

  9. The loss of a dream, for example, an actress who witnessed her star dimming due to age, or due to other rising star(s) replacing her.

  10. The loss of a character’s job due to automation, advanced machinery or artificial intelligence.

sad backstory ideas

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Relating to trauma and adversity

Explore ideas where the weight of trauma and adversity molds individuals, leaving an indelible mark that forever alters their personality and perspective on life.

  1. A character (or their loved one) enduring a physical, mental or sexual abuse.

  2. A character (or their loved one) falling victim to a scam.

  3. A character (or their loved one) being wrongly accused of a crime.

  4. A character (or their loved one) enduring the gruesome effect of war, accident, or natural disaster.

  5. A character (or their loved one) involvement in a cult.

  6. A character who grew up in poverty and faced hardships, such as homelessness, hunger, and limited opportunities.

  7. A refugee who escaped a war-torn country and faces the loss of loved ones, displacement, and the hardships of starting anew in a foreign land.

  8. A character who fell victim to blackmailing, gaslighting and the likes.

  9. A character who suffered because of favoritism in the workplace, in the family, or in the society.

  10. A character who was disadvantaged because they were not part of the right clique.

  11. A character who was prejudiced against based on gender, race, religion, beliefs, etc.

Relating to betrayal and abandonment

Here are some ideas relating to betrayal and abandonment, whether through neglect or rejection, which can cause deep wounds and a struggle with forming new connections.

  1. A character who was betrayed by their closest friend or family member, who revealed their deepest secrets and vulnerabilities to the world.

  2. A character who grew up in an orphanage, feeling abandoned and unwanted by their birth parents, constantly seek validation and struggle with feelings of self-worth.

  3. A character who was betrayed by a romantic partner, leading to a devastating breakup and a loss of faith in love.

  4. An individual who was abandoned by their parents at a young age and left to navigate the world on their own.

  5. A character who was backstabbed by a trusted mentor or authority figure, causing their dreams and aspirations to crumble.

  6. A character who was constantly passed over for promotion at work despite their dedication and commitment.

  7. A character whose colleague/partner stole their intellectual work and pass it as their own.

  8. A character who was abandoned and shunned by their community or social group due to their beliefs or identity, facing rejection and isolation.

  9. A character who was betrayed by a close friend or sibling, who stole their identity and left them to face the consequences.

  10. An individual who was abandoned by their significant other during a time of great need, such as a severe illness or financial crisis.

  11. An individual who was cheated on by their significant other.

  12. A character who was betrayed by their teammates and sacrificed as a scapegoat.

Relating to internal struggles and challenges

Here are ideas relating to internal struggles and challenges, things that are outside of one’s control, creating internal conflicts and driving the character’s growth throughout the story.

  1. A character who battles with an internal identity crisis, questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity, and facing rejection or discrimination from society and loved ones.

  2. A protagonist who struggles with self-harm or suicidal thoughts, grappling with deep emotional pain and a constant battle against their own destructive impulses.

  3. An individual who faces an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, leading to a distorted body image and a destructive relationship with food.

  4. A character who must battle their own perceived or real bodily flaw.

  5. A character who was born with a debilitating illness or disability, facing physical limitations and societal prejudices that make it difficult for them to fully participate in everyday life.

  6. A character who was subjected to systemic oppression and discrimination based on their race, ethnicity, or social class, resulting in a constant battle for equality and dignity.

  7. A character who got reincarnated against their wish.

  8. An android who longs to be human.

  9. A human character who underwent forced reengineering that transformed them into an android.

  10. A character who was once the subject of an unlawful or unethical experiment.

sad backstory ideas

What’s a Backstory?

Now, what’s a backstory, really?

A backstory refers to the personal history and experiences of a character that occur before the main events of a story or narrative. It provides context and depth to a character’s motivations, personality, and actions.

A backstory can include details about a character’s upbringing, family, education, past relationships, etc, and developing a rich and compelling backstory can help make a character more relatable and three-dimensional, allowing readers or viewers to understand their behaviors and emotions on a deeper level.

Why sad backstory?

Sad backstories are often used in storytelling to create depth and emotional connection with characters, by exploring the hardships, challenges, and traumas that characters have experienced.

Sad backstories can also create opportunities for character development, resilience, and eventual triumph over adversity. Overall, incorporating sad backstories in storytelling adds emotional weight and can make the characters and their journeys more relatable and compelling to the audience.


I hope the sad backstory prompts above are able to spark your imagination! If you need more story ideas and prompts, please browse our Story Ideas & Writing Prompts category!

Have any question or feedback? Feel free to contact me here. Until next time!


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