In The Beginning...

The Origin Story

The Origin Story - the tale of how a nonody acquires epic abilities and becomes a Hero - is pretty much the stock in trade of Superhero Comics and Summer Blockbusters. As such it has - deservedly - a dubious reputation among those who appreciate decent storytelling. Nonetheless, it is a legitimate literary form with potential as a story vehicle. After all, everyone had to start somewhere: Even Generals Washington, Grant, and Eisenhower started out as lowly cadets, and had to earn their stripes through long and arduous service.

There is a very real risk in the Origin Story, especially if you try to build up your character in the course of a single volume. In short you need to be wary of turning your character into a Mary Sue by building him/her up too far too fast. This is compounded by finite word space and by Speculative Fiction's natural tendency to 'go large' with your character development. You need to keep it firmly in check if you want to avoid 'superlative writing'.

Building your character over several volumes is one good way to minimize this problem, and has been used successfully in a number of series, such as the Ensign Flandry sagas. The problem there is your first installment must be a solid stand-alone effort which earns the market for sequels. There is also a lot of extra time / opportunity cost involved in any multi-volume series.

Nonetheless the Origin Story can be used to good effect: starting off with an ordinary nebbish who witnesses / learns of something disturbing, yet is unable to do something about it. Thus this nebbish embarks on a Quest to find or acquire the abilities he/she needs to prevail.

This doesn't necessarily mean fighting skills or weapons (and for Bog's sake, please don't include a Superhero costume!) These abilities-to-be-gained can include knowledge, Wisdom (a whole separate thing), political influence, advantage over a secondary opponant / enimy, magical powers, the approval of the Gods, dark secrets best left unsaid, or even access to a restricted position. The possible interplay of those elements can generate volumes of story tension and secondary action beyond the primary story line.

In short, while the Origin Story has a bad rap inflicted by all the hack wordsmiths out there, it has endless potential as a literary vehicle. It requires self-discipline to do correctly, but don't hesitate to try it.

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