Origin Stories

I just got a very nice compliment on Twitter for my origin stories. Compliments are nice, of course. To semi-quote Twain, we do like compliments. All of us do. Novelists, burglars, congressmen, all of us in the trade. But it also got me thinking about why most origin stories are so terrible, and what to do about it.

To put it in the simplest terms, if it’s an origin story, we know what happens. That takes a lot of the fun out of it.  But here’s the thing: this is a perfect case for the 3B rule*: Point of view solves everything. We know what happens from certain points of view; but how does it look from the angle of someone we’ve never considered?

Another consideration (closely related to the above) is turning the predictability from a disadvantage to an advantage, which you do with a sort of literary Judo–using the reader’s knowledge against him.  “You think you know what happened, but what if everyone’s motivation was different from what you think?”  Treat it like secret history–keeping the known “facts” just means you get to play with everything else.

Anyway, not sure if there’s enough meat here for a blog post, but I haven’t touched this thing in a while (it’s not really working yet; I can’t comment on my own posts without jumping through hoops). So, anyway, those were some thoughts on origin stories, and maybe they’ll trigger some conversation.

*If you want to know why I call it the 3B rule, you can ask me. Or Emma Bull. Or Elizabeth Bear.

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15 thoughts on “Origin Stories”

  1. I don’t understand, I HAVE asked Mr. Brust why it is called the 3B rule. I also asked Mrs. Bull about the 3B rule. I even asked Mrs. Bear about it. All any of them do is refer me to the other two. WTF?

  2. Ah. Brust, Bear, and Bull? Each referring questioners to the other two? No idea what that rule could mean!

  3. calisto01

    I’m afraid you’ve fallen prey to one of the classic blunders…

    Your assumption that the sarcastic, sassy and, well, quite frankly, fuckin’ sneaky, Steven Brust, would ever be so sedentary as to slip such a susceptibly, sweet sleuth referencing the Scribblies so shyly by your sight, should severely savage your faith in such a smarmy, yet stealthy and stylish sort. In other words, you say you’ve solicited Bear, Brust and Bull, and your suspicions were subsequently shoved off by said stalwarts? Well fuck, what do such slights suggest to you? And, given such serious, skeptical, and possibly spurious, suppositions, what further sureties might you be in serious search of? Stand strong in your solicitude! Seek your own satisfactory solutions to said speculations and you will never be unsatisfied!

    Or so I suppose…albeit with some cynicism?

    Yours, sincerely,


  4. skzb–

    I didn’t figure about Sethra’s origin story being in Tsalmoth. But a guy can dream, right?

    The part about the Morrolan origin story I liked best was, although he was helpful in restoring the Empire after the Interregnum, he actually lied to Vlad about the specifics.

    “Any differences between the two accounts have been introduced maliciously” or words to that effect.

  5. @Kragar: If those are the words skzb has used to describe the differences, I would interpret that differently. That is, I wouldn’t necessarily assume that all of the discrepancies are due to deliberate lies Morrolan told to Vlad. There are several people in the chain of telling of each of those stories between Morrolan and us (and one entity who isn’t in that chain but is known to meddle with memories), and the malice could come from any of them, and could be directed towards any of the others.

  6. @nimelennar–

    I interpreted the phrase “differences are introduced maliciously” as coming from skzb himself, as it was written by him in the front parts, and to be intended humorously.

    But to your point, Verra the Demon Goddess is quite capable of messing with memories, or Vlad could have been confused, or Vlad could have been deliberately prevaricating because he thought his invented version of Morrolon’s role in the restoration made for a better story.

  7. @Kragar, Yes, I absolutely was including skzb as “one of the people between Morrolan and us,” whether skzb the real person in our world, or skzb, the fictional person with the box listening to Vlad and the fictional translator for Paarfi of Roundwood. And if that’s what he meant, then I can definitely see the point where all narrators are, to a point, unreliable, and that is somewhat malicious towards readers who want the “one true story.”

    Through nonspecifity, I wanted to imply that maybe Vlad isn’t the one passing along an inaccurate story. Or maybe both Vlad and Paarfi are, and the real story is somewhere in the middle, or something else entirely. We’re purportedly being told both versions of Morrolan’s story, at best, third-hand: Paarfi wasn’t there, Vlad wasn’t there, and skzb-as-fictional-translator certainly wasn’t.

    I think treating either version of the story as unambiguously canonical wastes the opportunity given to us as readers, of having two versions of events to choose from.

  8. But, most likely, Morrolan lied in order to exaggerate his role vís-a-vís Orb Retrieval and impress his frenemy Vlad.

  9. Today I was reading about Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. What a fascinating life. Apparently his son combined elements of his father’s story along with the real life D’Artagnan’s known exploits and accomplishments to complete the picture of the fictional D’Artagnan. The relative outsider who rises through the ranks thanks to hard work and well-timed bursts of bravery and inspiration. Well, it is a good story.

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