I was born a slave on a planet far far away. From when I was three, I was constantly whipped until my skin was scraped off my body. One day, I stole a piece of bread, but I was sold out by my own father for three pieces kakurin. I was subjugated even more, and I was forced to do the work load of 100 men. The hatred in my heart grew as I swore to obtain my own justice. When I turned 16, I led a revolt and overthrew those wicked fools. But, as if I were a tool, I was literally stabbed through my back by those whose lives I saved. In retaliation, I painted the ground a sickly crimson, and I walked into the distance to begin my campaign unto all of reality. Or did I?
I understand the reasons why the mysterious past trope is used quite often. In fact, some would say that it is essential. However, if you have read my serial, you would see that the origin story was told first. The reason why I averted the use of this trope is that I was not interested in making Braeden to be a mysterious brooding character. No, I wanted to make him an overlord in the making type of character! But seriously, I wanted a character that the audience connects with right out of the gate. That is not to say that he doesn’t have some secrets, it is just that those secrets are not the same type that is typical to those kinds of backstories.
Now, the reason I feel that this trope is used is to create an air of mystique around a character. This draws the audience to that character, resulting in said audience wanting to know more. It is a great tool for writers since they can reveal bits of information at their leasure, or more rarely, not reveal anything at all.
This is only my observation, but it seems that anti-heroric and villainous characters are more likely to get a backstory of this nature. Off of the top of my head, two characters I know of that fit is Guts from Berserk, and Xehanort from Kingdom Hearts. The past of Guts is not touched upon all that much until the completion of a few story arcs, and players are still learning more information about Xehanort. More cynical people would say that this trope is employed because the writer doesn’t know what they are doing, and while some writers do write by the seat of their pants, I believe it is safe to assume that most at least have the general idea in mind.
While I want to talk more about backstories and brooding protagonists at a later date, I want to talk briefly about my own problem with how this trope is misused. Sometimes, it seems to me that a writer is more concerned with making their main character “cool”, never even bothering to use that character’s potential. Instead, they make the “character” into a narrative device, with the tacked on mysterious past or some faux mystique being used to make them seem “cooler”. Do any characters you know of fit this? Please let me know, and I will see you next time on The Breakdown.