Thinking About Origin Stories

I’ve been thinking about origin stories lately.

Some of this is just part and parcel of developing new ideas and new characters.  As author, we have to figure out what the origins of our characters ARE, even if we don’t actually show them.  But sometimes I feel an urge to show them.  There’s a really important backstory that goes along with Ransom from Blindsight.  It’s heartbreaking and tragic, and it’s the thing that made him who he is.  I’m going to tell it at some point.  And I actually have a fair amount of these kinds of stories that I’ve thought about writing to tell about my Mirus peeps (and some others, but it’s Mirus I’m thinking about today).

Whisper of Shadow sort of IS an origin story for Emily.  It’s a pivotal moment in her life that, thankfully, ends on a win.  That is, I find, kind of a rare thing for origin stories.  I mean, think about it.  Part of the point of origin stories is that they are pivotal moments–the point at which they are changed somehow and set on the path that leads them to…whatever their grander story is.  And unfortunately in most cases, whatever that pivotal moment was…isn’t a win.

I think that makes origin stories tricky business.  Because most of us want a win at the end of our fiction (well maybe not most as there are all kinds of genres out there that don’t end that way–but everybody I know wants a win).  It’s the thing that makes the read (or movie) satisfying.  Chuck Wendig wrote a post a while back on why he pees on origin stories.  So I think origin stories can be a gamble.

They’re probably a bonus for folks who are already fans of a work.  You love the characters of something and you want to know more about them.  So then it’s just filling in the blanks and getting all fangirl/boy squee over whatever that was.  (YES I liked Xmen: Wolverine.  I won’t apologize for it–HUGH JACKMAN.  Nuff said.  We aren’t talking about how they screwed up Deadpool in that movie.)  But I’m not sure they work as a lead in to a series or a story unless they are the rare kind that ends on some sort of win.  Unless you just manage to create a character that is THAT COMPELLING.

I’m undecided on what I’ll wind up doing, but I’m curious about what all of you think.  What’s your opinion on origin stories?  Love ’em?  Hate ’em?  Only want to see them after you’ve already fallen in love with the characters in their main story?  Inquiring minds want to know.


3 thoughts on “Thinking About Origin Stories

  1. It depends on the story, I suppose, but at the end of the day, a story is a story whether it’s an origin story or not. And I like stories!

    As for your origin story ending on a win, I don’t see a problem with that. What would make it even more interesting, for me as a reader, is if that win was something totally unexpected for the character, something that wasn’t within her focus at all, and something that results in her catapulting off in a completely new direction from the one she’d planned/envisaged.

    I’m not fussy either way if I read an origin story before or after reading the series in which the character appears. If it’s well written, I’m happy. (An origin story written as a short could be a good way to interest readers in a series.)

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