Brooke Shaffer

Author, Gamer, and Cat-Collector Extraordinaire

Character Development: Origins, Beginnings, Arcs, and Endings

Welcome back to the series on Character Development and Evolution. Today we’re going to talk about character Origins, Beginnings, Arcs, and Endings.

First we’re going to address the difference between the Origin and the Beginning. Chances are good that we’re not going to meet a character at birth and follow his whole life story. Where we meet your character at the beginning of a story is, well, the Beginning. Like I mentioned in the last segment, this is meeting your new coworkers on Monday morning. Everything before that is Origin.

In the Star Trek: The Next Generation theme, Riker’s beginning is his pickup at Farpoint Station. Before that, he served on other starships, some of these incidents coming back to haunt him in future episodes.

Doctor Crusher is also there for pickup, but she has a history with Picard. Picard was her dead husband’s best friend. And actually, Picard was forced to leave Jack to die on his fated away mission. And he had to be the one to tell Wesley that his dad was dead.

Data was found on a world decimated by the crystalline entity. Worf was rescued and adopted by humans after the massacre at Khitimer. Tasha escaped her hellhole of a home. Troi’s father was human, so she had a bit of a dual-life. Both of Geordi’s parents were in Starfleet, so it only stood to reason that he should follow in their footsteps.

These are all Origins. Their Beginnings are basically all the same as we meet them at Far Point Station.

It may be the inclination of some creators to obscure the origins of their characters and insist that each one be mysterious until some grand Reveal. This may be appropriate for some characters, but the problem that arises is that the creator becomes so invested in the Origin that he robs the character of a meaningful Arc which can cause the Ending to collapse. Also consider that concealing an Origin can be a type of plot hole.

For example, there would be no reason to keep Tasha’s origins a secret. The Enterprise returns to her anarchist world on some adventure of some importance, and at the very end it’s revealed that this is Tasha’s planet and she knows the layout and the people and this and that. First off, how would Picard or Riker not know this, given that her origins are in her personnel file? Why wouldn’t they make it known that they want her to go, because of her knowledge, or they don’t want her to go because of her history? And that’s not even considering anything else she’s done or not done throughout the episode. And that’s not even considering anything that may have to be retrofitted. Second of all, what does this sudden revelation take away from the episode itself and any development of other characters?

I enjoy a good Reveal as much as anyone, and I’m not saying that I want your character’s entire life story in the first ten pages. Sometimes it is fine to keep things a little mysterious, but don’t forget about the story at hand, what’s going on now, what’s being addressed now.

Similarly, knowing Worf’s origins, how he was adopted by humans, how he is the only Klingon in Starfleet, sets him up for a spectacular arc later on, rather than leaving him as a dull, grudging, brooding somewhat unlikeable mystery, spending so much time on his mysterious origin that he never grows into anything else.

Contrast this with Miles O’Brien, a secondary character who is a familiar favorite and largely dismissed except as a likable transporter chief. There’s an episode where a starship captain goes rogue and is in danger of starting a war between the Federation and the Cardassians. O’Brien happened to have served with this captain in the past, and he is called upon as a source of knowledge and psychology about this captain. At one point in the episode, a Cardassian is talking to O’Brien in Ten-Forward and O’Brien recalls his time in the war, when he was defending a colony from Cardassian aggressors and was forced to kill a man. His famous line is, “It’s not you I hate, Cardassian. I hate what I became because of you.”

In this instance, his origin serves as a huge lift for character development, that he isn’t just a likable transporter chief, and this episode where he now has to work together with the Cardassians against a captain whom he served under and greatly respected is a wonderful display of character evolution. So you get a two-for-one deal.

So there may have to be a tiny bit of planning and thinking. Are your character’s origins known to the other characters? If not, why not? Is it important to know your character’s origins? If so, why? If not, why not? Is anything gained or lost by having or not having them known? When should your character’s origins be revealed, and how will it change things? Is it a major or minor point?

With your character now having an Origin and a Beginning, it’s now time to think about your character’s Arc or, as I have termed it, evolution. How does your character change over the course of the story, and how does your character change things?

Not every character has to be dramatic and have massive punches right and left. Geordi, for example, doesn’t change a whole lot. He remains a bachelor, stays in engineering, and doesn’t expand a whole heck of a lot between beginning and end. That doesn’t mean, however, that Far Point Geordi is the same as Nemesis Geordi. His changes are more subtle, just enough to keep his static arc from becoming stale. He navigates difficult situations, learns to really think critically, calms down from some of his early hot-headedness, and really feels to grow, even though he doesn’t change much. His change is his maturation, which is a perfectly acceptable thing to do.

Now contrast this with his best friend Data, and perhaps the two are juxtaposed this way intentionally. If both of them had been aggrandized, dynamic characters, either one could have taken away from the other. Similarly, it showcases Geordi’s character that he is willing to give so much of himself to help Data evolve.

As I said in the last installment, I think Data is the most well-developed and well-evolved character in the entire series. He starts out very robotic, very much a machine, yet he endeavors to understand humanity. As Riker calls him, Pinocchio.

His discovery of his own humanity is, quite frankly, astonishing, as he attempts to interact with humans and different cultures, master various arts like music and painting, and even engage in basic aspects of human life. He builds his own daughter. When he shows Picard, Picard wonders why Data didn’t tell him he was doing this. Data gets confused and states that he was not aware that other members of the crew disclosed their procreation activities and intentions. He also tries out the dating scene. He discovers sleeping, dreaming, and even hallucinations. He takes care of his cat and is concerned for Spot’s well-being.

Perhaps most interesting is the episode where Q is rendered mortal, and Data is the one who has to show him the ropes as it were, considering he is the only one who can tolerate Q because he has no emotions, no feelings to be hurt, no nerves to grate. Somehow, he who is not human must show he who does not want to be human, how to be human, all of this based entirely on observation and interactions of varying success rates.

Meanwhile, you have his brother Lore who does have emotions and is quite the psychopath. The audience learns that the colonists were actually afraid of Lore, of how perfectly human Soong had made him, so the doctor was obligated to make a “less perfect” Data. This foiling of Data and Lore throughout the series propels Data through a number of ethical, moral, and philosophical situations which evolve his character tremendously.

In the final season, then, you have the episode Masks, where Data becomes the conduit to host literally an entire civilization, tens or even hundreds of thousands of people and personalities, all manifesting within him, including the primary goddess of this lost civilization.

I know that there was some division among fans about the emotion chip. Lore used it as a tool of evil against Data, to manipulate him, but it was always there in the background as an option for the writers. It was not actually used until the movies, until Generations, and its use caused quite a stir within the plot, making fans wonder whether it was going to stay or go, not finding out until later that it had become permanently fused into his neural net (emotions are here to stay).

I don’t think it had a negative impact on Data’s character, but I am, in a way, glad that they chose to save it until the movies.

Such a huge change should not go unnoticed, but neither should it dominate every page afterwards. A big change is a big change, but eventually, people move on. The final piece of Data’s humanity puzzle comes, I think, in First Contact, when Data is also given the ability to feel and experience true tactile sensation. However, this is still a secondary point of the plot. There is a brief mention of his emotional state in Insurrection, as he tells everyone to “Saddle up. Lock and load,” but little more. Eventually, emotional Data simply becomes Data, how he is now.

For as much hate as it gets—and I’m not saying I don’t understand—Nemesis is my favorite of the TNG movies. It is amazing to see how Data has evolved so far from his days as “Pinocchio” to be the one to sacrifice himself in order to save Picard and the Enterprise. The machine finally became a man.

I’m going to cover Resurrections in another episode, and I’ll let you debate amongst yourselves over the necessity and quality of B4 and future Datas. For the purposes of this segment, a Resurrection is more of a plot point than an origin, beginning, arc, and ending. Because it’s not an ending. So that will get covered separately.

An ending for your character doesn’t always have to mean death. It’s just where you drop them off when the story ends. It might be happily ever after, it might be something sinister, it might be ambiguous as they sit in a coffee shop and watch the rain, thinking of their adventures. While endings tend to be tied to the plot, there should still be something satisfying about leaving a character where they are and walking away, even if it’s a feeling of despair as a beloved character has gone mad and must be committed to an asylum. Don’t just take them to the grocery store and abandon them there.

The interesting thing about TNG is that there are, sort of, two possible endings for the crew, or maybe even more. The TV series ended with a TV movie, All Good Things. The end of this movie sees the crew playing poker and talking about their future, the things Picard had seen as he was time traveling. Then you get Nemesis, where there is a little ambiguity around B4 and Data and, if you watched the deleted scenes, everyone is going their separate ways.

Now, with the mention of deleted scenes, Nemesis has one deleted scene where Wesley Crusher shows up to the wedding at the beginning, and Picard says that it’s good to see him in uniform again. And yet, when Wesley peaced out of the series, he was going off with the Traveler to experience higher planes of existence. Unfortunately, I don’t think those two bits would naturally play nice with each other. So take that into consideration for any characters that may be coming and going, to keep the flow natural.

I think that covers Origins, Beginnings, Arcs, and Endings pretty well. Next time we’re going to be talking about Super Powers and Super Gadgets.

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