What Exactly is the Origin Scene in Memoir or Fiction? #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

The inciting incident is the start of story present. In my case it’s when a high school guidance counselor challenges me to help my special needs daughter through her high school years and I realize I can’t do it without a college education myself.  

The origin scene is where my misbelief about not being smart enough to handle college work originates. The origin scene and misbelief started when I myself tried to sign up for college prep courses in high school and was told more or less that I would fail if I attempted college.
Writers need to consider what the key origin scene is that starts the belief in a flaw that is so important to their particular protagonist in the fiction or memoir story they’re trying to tell. The origin scene is where the protagonist’s flaw first comes into play, and it usually happens during childhood, according to Lisa Cron, the creator of the Story Genius method of writing.  
A flaw develops in the protagonist’s logic in the origin scene to help the protagonist cope at that particular time in his or her life with the situation at hand.
Why did Victoria believe she wouldn’t succeed in college? In 1973, she brought home the course selections book for high school. Her parents needed to sign off on the courses. 
*Rough origin scene, Victoria’s 13 years old:
 Dad picked up the folder.  “What’s this, Vic?” 
He pointed to the curriculum path I chose.  College Prep.
I was all smiles.  They should be so proud of my choice.  Me, the daughter who had so much trouble in school before.  Now I was considering college.
            “Vic,” he said, “We don’t go to college.”  He placed the folder back on the table.
            “What?”  Can’t just anybody go away to college?  I didn’t get it.  “Dad.”  I looked at my mother.  “I want to be a writer.”  And an actress, I thought, but I couldn’t tell Daddy that.  He already told me that was stupid when I had mentioned it to Mom last year.
            “College is for doctors and lawyers,” he said.
            That’s all?  Really?  I was at a loss of what to say.  I shook my head.  “But all the authors I read about…”
            “They must be rich,” he said.  “We’re not.”  He leaned forward on the table.  “There’s no money for college, Vic,” he informed me, in that definitive tone I knew so well.  He pushed the folder back to me.  “We’re a working class family.  Everybody goes to work after high school.”  He rose from the table.  “At real jobs,” he added. 
But why can’t working class people go to college?  I felt my dream slipping away.  I searched my brain for some proof.  “Dad, Betty’s sister wants to be a teacher, and she’s going to college.”  I glanced up at him. 
He was looking at my mother.  Neither one said anything. 
“Vic,” Dad said finally.  “What makes you think you’re smart enough to do it?”
I felt like it was the middle of summer instead of early spring.  I wanted to run outside into the darkness to cool off.  Or was it to hide from my past? I struggled so much in school before 6th grade.  Mom told me that the school had wanted to hold me back in 3rd grade but Daddy wouldn’t let them.  He had worked with me in math for hours after his night shift had finished.  Yet I continued to struggle in 4th and 5th grade.  But somehow in 6th grade I finally got it, although it took much studying and work on my part.
“Dad,” I said desperately, “I’m on the honor roll now.” 
“You need more than that to survive college, Vic.  Play it safe.  Go to work.”  When I didn’t reply, he left the room.
I sat there dumbfounded, trying to make sense of this. My parents didn’t go to college. And neither did my girlfriend’s parents.  Mom’s a secretary.  And Dad’s a machinist.  They have a house and cars.  They’re successful.  So are my friends’ parents.  College isn’t necessary for success. It didn’t matter what other writers had done.
            Daddy’s right.  If I tried college and failed, I’d embarrass them.  And Dad wouldn’t be able to help me this time with math.  It’s good to know this now before I have trouble with college prep courses.  And even if I did all that work, I wouldn’t have anything to study at college because I don’t want to be a doctor.  I don’t like blood and guts.  And I don’t want to be a lawyer because I’m afraid of the bad guys.  And I don’t need to struggle in college and then fail, proving to Dad that I’m not smart enough. 
*End of scene.
The origin scene begins a misunderstanding in the protagonist’s life. This misunderstanding must be connected to the main thrust of the story. And the misunderstanding should become a way for the protagonist to save herself from future problems. In my case, the misunderstanding that I’m not college material would save me from failure in life. I needed to choose a more secure path without the need to struggle further in my education.
Does this sound overly dramatic to you? Your insight is always appreciated.
The origin scene’s misunderstanding blooms into the flaw that the protagonist carries around with her for the rest of the story. But remember, to the protagonist, this misconstrued logic shows her how to interpret life so no harm or bad feelings come to her in the future.
Victoria’s father made it clear that doing well in the basic classes does not prepare one for college, in his mind. Victoria needed to be smarter. And she wasn’t. He instilled in her that failure in life is not good. Victoria interpreted this as “don’t attempt anything that you might fail at.” So she stayed away from college until her own daughter wanted the same dream.
Remember that many times, the antagonist’s intentions seem logical to him. They’re from his own life experience. The antagonist, many times, is just trying to help the protagonist. 

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18 thoughts on “What Exactly is the Origin Scene in Memoir or Fiction? #AuthorToolboxBlogHop”

  1. Hi Victoria – you had aspirations … you should have had that chance – but you've made up for it now – in later life. I wasn't encouraged as a child … I think my parents had aspirations for me … but I didn't match up – was only really good at sport … now a slightly different matter.

    Well written though – we can see you've been put down by your father … not to hurt you … just his practical self and maybe he was a little jealous … these things come out over time – or we can make more sense of our upbringing later on.

    I can feel some of your despair … but you overcame it then with your daughter and now … you're really showing your writing mettle – cheers Hilary

  2. I always have trouble with origin stories in my fiction, and I know I'm not ready for memoir since I'm too "close" to the things I would write a memoir about; I don't quite know what my origin scene would be. But your example displays it beautifully. I felt so disheartened while reading, but then I also feel a bit of hope. This is the origin, and so my mind has started filling in the gaps of what might come after, and that paints a really uplifting picture. Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Great post.
    When we're young, we're so impressionable. I wanted to study animation, but I'll never forget my mother telling me to get a 'real' job. She had good intentions, but those words stuck with me.
    It's something we can translate to our fiction too, our antagonists always believe what they're doing is right.

  4. Wow, that's quite the origin story. It also makes me wonder what your dad's origin story was, what caused him to eventually have this life altering conversation with you as opposed to any other course of action he could have taken. So, the origin scene can be different than the inciting incident, is that right?

  5. While not everyone has had this particular experience, I think you really captured something very relatable. I particularly liked the interplay between the character's thoughts and spoken words. In a way it creates another back and forth, between what they character is saying and what she really means. That alone says volumes about the relationship between father and daughter.

    Of course, if I wrote something like that I'd be hard pressed to resist finding an excuse to force it into the story.

    Thank you for sharing.

  6. Your origin scene is very palpable. It makes me want to read and know more about your story. Also, what did your dad think about you eventually going to college at a later age?

    You make it seem easy to create the origin scene, which might be more straightforward when an author has a very good idea what the theme of the book is. I’m sure it took you some time to come up with the scene. Well done!

  7. Thank you so much, Hilary, for your kind words. They mean the world to me. My father was extremely practical. He was brought up that way. He was the baby of 7. His dad died when he was young and the older siblings needed to go to work in order to survive.

    It’s always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Thanks again for stopping by. Enjoy your week!

  8. Thank you so much for your kind words. I truly appreciate them. Origin stories in fiction—and especially in memoir because they need to be true!—are very difficult to craft. Origin stories set up the storyline. And you are right to wait before you begin your memoir. Many times if we write a memoir about an experience too soon, it just becomes a dumping of our feelings instead a crafting of a true story. Good luck with all your writing endeavors, and thanks again for visiting Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your day!

  9. This is so true, Louise. Antagonists—especially parental ones—usually believe they are saving the protagonist [i.e. their children] from something [most times, failure].

    Boy! I knew I couldn’t study theatre, my first love. Dad thought he was saving me from a fate worse than death with that one. Words cut and stick with a child forever, it seems. Thanks again for your note here at Adventures in Writing. It’s greatly appreciated!

  10. Yes, Raimey. The origin scene depicts how the protagonist developed her uderstanding of a certain element in her life. In my case, a desire to attend college or further my formal education. The origin scene is a key piece of the protagonist’s backstory.

    The inciting incident is the beginning of the story present, as in NOT backstory. The inciting incident is what starts the present action the protagonist needs to address through the story being told.

    And yes, my father has his own personal backstory. I’m still not sure at this time whether it belongs in my college memoir.

    Thank you so much for creating a blog hop where writers can assist each other and share writing knowledge. It’s always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing.

  11. Thank you so much for your input on this, Anna. Yes, as I said to Raimey above, the origin scene is the key piece of backstory for the protagonist.

    Good for you to discover night school. At the time I went to work after high school graduation, I never thought of it. Thanks so much for your comment here at Adventures in Writing. It is truly appreciated. Enjoy your day!

  12. Thank you, Adam Michael. One of the crucial elements of writing is to develop that interplay between what the character thinks and what the character actually says. As you said, sir, therein lies the true story. And yes, it is difficult not to force a scene into the story—no matter how good the scene is—when the scene has no relevance to the story. This is truly important in memoir. You need only include story relevant scenes making the point of your memoir.

    Thanks so much for your comment here at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your day!

  13. Thank you so much for your kind words, Liesbet. They are greatly appreciated. I think with memoir we know what happened. The problem arises in deciding which scene is in fact the origin scene. In other words, where did the initial misunderstanding of the protagonist come into play for the very first time.

    It’s always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your week!

  14. Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Fanni! I truly appreciate your kind words. I always hope to offer insight into memoir or non-fiction through my blog posts.

    Thanks so much for your comment here at Adventures in Writing. Please stop by again!


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