Film and TV are very concerned with franchises that can build and spin-off from one another, and that means many executives are asking for origin stories to help launch a pilot or movie series.

But an origin story is more than just a character's backstory.

It's the pivotal series of events that shapes them, ignites their internal transformation, and often sets them on a path fraught with conflict. A well-crafted origin story adds layers of complexity, makes characters relatable, and provides the spark for the epic journeys we love to watch.

Today, we're going to go over that, define it, and look at some origin story examples.

Let's dive in.

Origin Story Definition

What is an 'Origin Story' in Film and TV?


Warner Bros.

An origin story is a narrative account that reveals the circumstances and experiences that shape a fictional character. It explores the pivotal events, internal transformations, and motivations that define the character's identity, purpose, and often their powers or abilities.

The Elements of an Origin Story

The Elements of an Origin Story


20th Century Fox

In order to craft an excellent origin story, you're going to need a few of these key elements:

  • The Catalyst: This is a transformative experience—traumatic, wondrous, or a powerful realization. It can be a single event (Bruce Wayne witnessing his parents' murder in Batman Begins) or span a longer arc (Katniss Everdeen volunteering as tribute in The Hunger Games).
  • The Impact: The origin story reveals how this experience changes the character's core. Their beliefs, worldview, or sense of self undergo a fundamental shift in response to the catalyst.
  • Powers, Skills, or Responsibility: In superhero tales this is obvious—think of Peter Parker’s infamous spider bite in Spider-Man. However, "powers" can be metaphorical, like the dawning determination of a wrongfully convicted man in The Shawshank Redemption.
  • Purpose Revealed: The origin story establishes the character's driving motivation—their quest for justice, their protective instinct, or a thirst for power.

Why Origin Stories Resonate

Why Origin Stories Resonate

Into the Spider-Verse


A powerful origin story does more than explain how a character got their superpowers or their signature weapon. It lays the groundwork for the choices they'll make, the battles they'll fight, and how they'll either rise to the occasion or tragically fall from grace.

  • Relatability: Even in fantastical settings, origin stories often tap into universal human experiences of fear, grief, desire, or a yearning for something greater. This helps us connect to characters on a deeper level.
  • Understanding Complexity: Why is this hero so brooding? Why is that villain so ruthless? A good origin story sheds light on a character's flaws and motivations, painting a more multifaceted picture.
  • Empathy and Investment: Seeing characters at their most vulnerable or uncertain before their rise to power creates a bond with the audience. We become invested in their journey and root for their success (or even their spectacular downfall).
  • Setting the Stage: The origin story establishes expectations. It gives us a glimpse of the struggles and triumphs that may lie ahead for the character.

What Are the Different Variations of Origin Stories?

What Are the Different Variations of Origin Stories?

Mission: Impossible


The next time you watch your favorite film or binge a new series, pay attention to the origin story – you might just see the whole narrative in a new light.

Let's explore a few common types of origin stories and their variations:

  • Superheroes and Epics: The most familiar type—Superman, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman. These often follow a somewhat traditional trajectory: discovery of power, learning to use it responsibly, facing a great threat.
  • The Rise of the Underdog: From Rocky to The Karate Kid, we love watching an unassuming person defy expectations and become an unlikely champion.
  • The Villain's Origin: Prequels and shows like Better Call Saul give heartbreaking insights into how the people we love to hate became who they are. It can be tragedy, disillusionment, or a lust for power that twists their path.
  • The Slow Reveal: Some of the most intriguing origin stories are doled out in fragments. What really happened to Eleven in Stranger Things? Where did Jason Bourne get his lethal skills? The mystery keeps us hooked.
  • Non-Linear Storytelling: Movies like Pulp Fiction or flashbacks in shows like Lost weave together the pieces of an origin story out of chronological sequence for maximum impact.
  • Coming-of-age: Films like The Breakfast Club and Lady Bird are essentially about the origin of a character's adult identity, shaped by experiences in a specific time period.
  • Crime Epics:The Godfather and Goodfellas trace how childhood and circumstance lead characters into a dangerous underworld.

Tips For Writing Your Own Origin Story

Stranger things MetaCasting Culture Vulture Nostalgia 1980s Winona Ryder Netflix Meta

Stranger Things


Every compelling character—from heroes to villains to those who fall somewhere in between—has a beginning. Crafting a powerful origin story lays the groundwork for their motivations, choices, and the path they'll walk.

Whether you're fleshing out a character for a screenplay, novel, or even your own roleplaying game, their origin is where the adventure truly begins.

So how can you write an origin story for your characters?

  • Keep it Grounded: Even in fantastical worlds, ground the origin in believable emotions and consequences.
  • Don't Info-Dump: The origin story shouldn't be a quick montage. Let it unfold, showing the character's reaction and evolution organically.
  • Connect to the Arc: The origin should foreshadow the character's strengths, weaknesses, and major conflicts in the overall story. If a detail from the origin doesn't pay off later, consider cutting it.
  • Less Can Be More: Sometimes the most effective origin is hinted at, with the full picture only revealed over time.
  • Shake Up the Catalyst: Radioactive spiders and murdered parents are classics for a reason, but there are countless other ways to transform a character. What about a seemingly mundane event that triggers psychic powers, or a simple kindness that sets a hardened criminal on a path of redemption?
  • Challenge the Trajectory: Not every origin leads to greatness. A botched experiment might leave a person broken, a brush with death could create a fear-driven tyrant. Subverting expectations makes for more compelling stories.
  • Internal vs. External: External events matter, but the origin is strongest when the main conflict is within the character themselves. Think Luke Skywalker wrestling with the lure of the Dark Side in Star Wars, not just his lightsaber skills.

Whether you're a screenwriter or an avid fan, understanding origin stories deepens your appreciation of the art of storytelling. They are the foundation upon which beloved characters are built, and explain the 'why' behind their greatest victories and most heartbreaking failures.

Let me know what you think in the comments.