Your main character didn’t burst into being ten seconds before the start of your story. They have a history, a series of events that put them on the path to this novel.
In story theory, your protagonist most likely has a psychic wound or a misbelief about the world–something that is holding them back from achieving the things they want. This is the foundation of your character’s internal emotional arc. Without it, your character stays flat and unchanging. You can write successful stories where the MC doesn’t learn or change, but they’re often not as satisfying as stories where they do.
Note that any character can (and depending on their importance, maybe should) have an origin story. So antagonists, heroes and heroines, and anyone with a motive can have this in their backstory.
Some examples of origin stories:
- Plot: Harry Potter’s (Harry Potter) parents are killed, and Dumbledore sends him to live with the Dursleys. His real story only begins at age 10 when he gets his letter from Hogwarts.
- Wound: Anakin Skywalker (Star Wars) fails to prevent the death of Padme Amidala, and is pushed further toward the Dark Side.
- Misbelief: Mary Lennox (The Secret Garden) is raised to become a spoiled brat, believing herself above the servants. She goes on to realize that she has more in common with poor boys like Dickon than her own cousin.
Today we’ll focus on the origin of that psychic wound, misbelief, or other plot-related event that got your main character started on their road to protagonistdom.
- Introduce yourself: Name, age, gender, and genre.
- What do you want most?
- What’s holding you back from getting it? For maximum impact, this should be an internal, emotional barrier.
- When did you first encounter this problem? What’s the origin?
- How does the problem make you feel?
- Why haven’t you done something to fix the problem? Or did you, and it failed?
- Have you tried to go around the problem, instead of facing it head-on?
- How will you change during the novel to address this problem?
- Find a GIF for how you’ll feel when you finally overcome this problem. (Triumphant, shocked, overjoyed…)
To learn more about this concept, check out Lisa Cron’s STORY GENIUS, and these links: