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The Origin Story

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, July 2, 2022

It's common knowledge that a solid origin story will make a character. It'll often also make the story being told. Origin stories can be and often are the foundation for characters and plotlines, since motivations, plot points, and even stakes are set in them.

But what makes a good origin story and is it always necessary?

A good origin story is one that adds to the current narrative without taking away from it or slowing it down. It is supposed to give insights to the audience about certain characters and situations, and even hint at the trajectory in which the character is going.

This goes for villains

For heroes

For antiheroes

And Batman.

The origin story can help us understand why a character will keep to a trajectory, and help us appreciate the value of veering away from it for a more powerful purpose (Zuko's character arc illustrates this beautifully, since his origin story shows us why honor is so important to him, and how desperately he wants his father's approval).

It can be presented linearly (so, in the beginning before we see the character in a more mature/later/adult phase) or as a flashback that answers certain questions: In Rurouni Kenshin, Sojiro, Shishio's lancer, is a ruthless assassin that always smiles angelically. We don't know why and we learn to fear and loathe him- then when the time is right, we learn how Shishio took him under his wing and how he developed that perpetual grin/smile. That's when compassion/understanding comes to add itself to the fear that he might beat Kenshin (and he does, of course, at first).

On the other hand, sometimes an origin story may take away from a character rather than add to them. This is often the case with horror or suspenseful stories. But even superhero stories sometimes don't need an origin story.

Sometimes, knowing how a character became what they are takes away from the impact of who they are. The Joker is a case in point, because not knowing his origin story affords him a flair of threatening mystery. Besides, the way he changes his own story each time he narrates it makes it even better an indication of who he is.

So, when are origin stories warranted?

I would say when you feel they are necessary: when they will add to the audience's capacity to relate to a character and understand their behavior/motivations. When it will relate to the plot (often when characters in the origin story make an appearance in the current one). When it will change the view of the audience of what is happening at the perfect time.

Have you got origin stories for your characters?

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PaulEberhardt at 1:43PM, July 4, 2022

I do origin stories for all of my major characters, and often they're not just scribbled notes but actual texts. They're the ones I never ever show to anyone. It's sometimes tempting, but it'd spoil the fun immensely. I hate it when large franchises do that in their usual sell-out endeavours, prequels usually marking the point when I move on to devote my fan's attention to something else. That's why I kind of vowed never to do that myself. So why do I write them anyway? It's still fun when you do it for yourself, and while it may seem like producing a lot of deadweight at first glance, just the process of forcing yourself to think your characters' origin stories all the way through does wonders for internal consistency. Pity that pro writers have to think of everything they don't publish as wasted time.

cdmalcolm1 at 8:40AM, July 4, 2022

I’m currently drawing SolarCell’s origin story on how she became a supervillain and then skips ahead to the very end of her being a supervillain to an Innocent superhero with massive memory loss. As she goes through her young life, she gets bitter at the action of others towards her. Each one contributes to her becoming villainous. At first I wasn’t going to do this story. However, as I was waiting for Heroes Alliance team to finish off the the current story, I had to find something else to do related to the HA universe. That’s when I decided to focus of SolarCell’s Origins as the Last Child of Gluttony. Since HA Universe is on a massive hold, I’m forced to remove my character of anything HA related. Sadly, once I finish this Origin story, SolarCell the comic may not even happen. I created her specifically for the HA universe. If I do decide to go ahead and make the SolarCell the comic, It will be in the HA Universe with only using my characters.

usedbooks at 4:35PM, July 2, 2022

I have back stories for many. I guess any flashback is a sort of origin stories. Origin of what? Career? Campaign of vengeance? Bird phobia? Romantic relationship? If you break it down, a character can have many origin stories that are the origins of different things. They sometimes add something useful but more often make good filler to space out the current plot or change pace. Some of them are just god awful and best left vague. (I could have done without the flashback episode of MacGyver's hatred of guns. There are plenty of reasons to not use a gun without childhood trauma entering into it, and it didn't add anything to the character. It just made for an unpleasant story. 🤷)

bravo1102 at 5:42AM, July 2, 2022

If anything I do origin stories for myself just so I know where the character came from. They may never get used or only a few bits referred to but sometimes they make themselves heard in the story, because everyone comes from somewhere and things that have happened can have great impact on the here and now.

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