Episode 229: Character Origin Stories


On May 6, Kasie and Rex continued the conversation on “origins” (see last weeks adaptations show) with a discussion about character origin stories. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Character Origin Stories


  • Origin stories as they relate to characters and exposition
  • How to write an origin story
Photo by Erik Mclean on Pexels.com

A character’s origin story is backstory – how they came to be who they are (link). There are three kinds link and a video.

  • Trauma: Batman
  • Destiny: Luke Skywalker
  • Chance: Frodo Baggins

What’s the purpose of the origin story? 1) tell your audience why they should invest in the character, 2) to explain just how high the stakes are when the character is in conflict, 3) to explain the character’s current fears, flaws, or worldview. The origin story should fulfill all of these requirements.

Ask your character a series of revealing questions (video link):

  • Who were his best friends growing up? Animal? Neighbor? Family member?
  • Was he a popular kid? A nerd? A bully? 
  • Did he have a mentor or hero he looked up to? Why did he look up to that individual?
  • What was home life like for that individual?
  • Where do they consider a safe place? (think Castle Byers from Stranger Things)
  • What did he want to be when he grew up?
  • Did he grow up wealthy or poor?

If the questions don’t pertain, consider what would pertain keeping in mind that some experiences are universal. That’s what makes characters relatable.

Placement, Purpose and Pacing are how you keep the origin story from being baggage to the reader (same video). 

So a lot (a LOT) of the links on “origin story” googles are about superheroes and that’s because they’re unique and we want to know how they got that way. Bit by a radioactive spider? Check. Alien ship crash landed in Kansas? Check. Superheroes not only need to explain their basics:

  • Characteristics
  • Setting
  • Past life/significant events (um. The death of Uncle Ben? Anyone?)

But also the origin of their super powers. And here’s where that multiple versions / expanded universe thing gets tricky. Exactly how did our hero get like this?

This is the real topic I was after all along. What origin lore do we have to keep? What can we get rid of?

In every version of Anakin Skywalker does he slaughter the sand people who kidnapped his mother? Why or why not?

In every version of Spiderman it’s a radioactive spider bite but why can Tobey Maguire’s Spiderman generate his own webs and Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland have to make theirs?

How do we work within the existing lore of species like Werewolves and Vampires? This, friends, is where Rex and I are working and our takes on the tropes and traditions of taxonomic ranks (species, genus, family, order, class, etc) are part knowing and part inventing. Maybe To Be Continued…

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