“For a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time, beyond friends and kin, and the fields and streams of youth, an old starved pitiable thing.”
― The Two Towers
The Origin Story. The tales and experiences behind the heroes and villains of legend, the events that gave rise to great cities and empires. The myths that fuel stories about tail-less bears alongside more grandiose musings of how life itself came to be. We love a good Origin Story because it helps to answer “Why” and “How”, to form an understanding of the present by exploring the past.
For writers, it can be a way to share insights into a larger narrative, and convey important themes and concepts. I mentioned them briefly in an earlier post, but here are a few examples of different types of Origin Stories!
Whether it’s clay people, islands rising from the sea, or magical coconuts, Creation Myths explain how the world was created, and how life sparked into existence. When writing, think about what myths inspire the people that live within the world you’ve created. Is there a creation myth that they believe in? Does it differ across different cultures? How far along, developmentally, is civilization? How does this impact the way people think about the old tales?
There are countless creation myths from around the world that you can pull from, such as The Story of the Coconut from the Philippines, which not only tells the tale of ancient deities and the creation of humans but highlights the importance of the coconut in Philippine culture as well.
From the French word for “why”, Pourquoi Stories explain why certain things are the way they are. You’ll often find these tales in mythology and folklore, ranging from the creation of different plants and animals to why those beings have specific characteristics. The world is full of strange and unusual things…what kind of explanations will people in your stories have for strange natural occurrences?
One that I remember reading as a child is found in a few different Native American stories: How the Bear Lost his Tail— a rather sad account of why Bears no longer have lovely, bushy tails 🙁
Hero/Villain Origin Stories
This is what we typically think of when we hear the term “Origin Story”. This is where we learn about the experiences that lead people or groups to become the heroes (or villains) that they are in the present. We learn about their backstories, who they were before, which events occurred in those earlier years that inspired their perceptions, beliefs, and intentions. There are a number of common tropes in popular Origin Stories, found across the spectrum of fictional genres:
- Destroyed homes
- Murdered/missing parents
- Mysterious powers
- Genetic mutations
In The Superhero Reader, the authors describe the Origin Story as “a bedrock account of the transformative events that set the protagonist apart from ordinary humanity”, with significant themes of transformation and identity as the subject of the tale undergoes their evolution.
Think about characters you’ve written. What inspired them to follow the path they’ve chosen? Have your antagonists always been “bad guys”, or did they, like Gollum, fall victim to an external force, outside of their awareness and control?
The most resonant Origin Stories are those with relatable subjects. When you look at classic tropes, we typically gravitate towards the ones about “normal people“. People who are just going through life, trying to make the best of whichever hands they were dealt when, suddenly, they are dropped into a remarkable situation and life changes forever. We become enraptured as we witness the evolution from everyday life to answering the call of fate, to become something greater. Often, these tales inspire us to become greater ourselves…
What are some of your favorite origin stories? What kind of themes do you enjoy using when you are writing them yourself?
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