Stories have been an integral part of human culture for centuries. From ancient myths to modern-day novels, stories have entertained, educated and inspired people across time and place. A key element of a good story is its structure, which typically includes a beginning, a middle and an end. I would argue that, for a compelling narrative, stories need a balance with their beginning, middle and end and within each section change needs to occur.
The beginning of a story sets the stage for what is to come. It introduces the main characters, establishes the setting and provides the reader with a sense of the story’s tone and mood. In many ways, the beginning of a story is like a first impression: it sets the reader’s expectations for what is to come. You may like to consider including a prologue.
The beginning gives you the proposal for the story you are going to read. Without a beginning a story has no context.
he first line of a novel is espcially important to spark interest and intrigue so the reader is engaged. If the beginning is slow, confusing or uninteresting, the reader may lose interest and stop reading. To avoid this, writers often employ various techniques to hook the reader in from the very beginning. This might include starting with a dramatic event, a vivid description or an intriguing question. For example, the opening sentence of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: ‘There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.’ This seemingly mundane sentence immediately raises questions in the reader’s mind: Why couldn’t they take a walk? What’s going to happen instead? By the end of the first paragraph, the reader is fully invested in the story and eager to find out what happens next.
Another fine first line is in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, where he writes: ‘It was a pleasure to burn.’ This line prompts many questions!
The middle of a story is where the action happens. This is where the characters face challenges and obstacles, where the plot thickens and where the tension builds. The middle – the heart of the story is where the reader should become more emotionally invested in the characters and the outcome of the story. This is where the arguement of the story plays out. Here the writer has the most opportunity to show their storytelling skills, using vivid language, suspenseful pacing and well-thought out plot twists to keep the reader involved.
Care needs to be taken in the middle section to avoid getting bogged down in too much detail or losing sight of the main plot. To avoid this, writers often plan using outlines or storyboards to keep the plot on track and to make sure each scene serves a purpose.
Bestselling author, James Scott Bell, has written a book on the unusual approach of writing a novel by starting with the middle of the story and, having studied the structure of stories in movies and books, he writes:
What I found was that this midpoint … is the moment that tells us what the novel or movie is really all about.
You see, the character is going to have to face a death of some kind in the story. There are three kinds of death and one or more will confront the character, in bold relief, right smack dab in the middle of your novel.James Scott Bell Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between (Bell on Writing), 2014
The middle section of the story can be made more engaging by including tests or challenges for characters and heightening conflict.
The end of a story is where everything comes together and where a conclusion is given. Here the main plot is resolved, loose ends are tied in and the reader should get a sense of closure. The ending is often the most memorable part of a story and is what the reader will be left with long after they’ve finished reading.
To write a satisfying ending can be challenging. It’s important to strike the right balance between resolution and ambiguity, between closure and open-endedness. A good ending should leave the reader feeling satisfied, although not necessarily comfortable. The end should seem true to the story and the characters, rather than forced or contrived.
One technique that many writers use to create a satisfying ending is a twist. This is where the reader’s expectations are subverted in some way, and the ending takes an unexpected turn. For example, in the short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, the reader expects a pleasant town event, but the twist ending reveals a dark and disturbing ritual. This type of ending can be very effective, but it should be used sparingly and only when it serves the story.
In conclusion, the structure of a story with a beginning, middle and end is a time-tested approach for creating a compelling narrative. The beginning sets the stage, the middle builds the tension, and the end provides closure and resolution. However, there are many options for a successful story and this structure is by no means a rigid formula. Some writers will play with the order of events or experiment with non-linear narratives. Others may use different techniques, such as multiple perspectives or stream-of-consciousness narration, to tell their stories. Some authors choose to round off their story ending with an epilogue. The key is to find the structure that best serves the story and to use it to create a narrative that is engaging, meaningful and memorable.
Ultimately, a good story is about more than just its structure. It’s about the characters, the setting, the themes and the emotions it evokes in the reader. From a basic structure with a beginning, middle and end, writers can create a solid foundation on which to build a great story. The beginning hooks the reader in, the middle keeps them engaged and the end leaves them satisfied. With these elements in place, a writer can craft a story that resonates with readers and can have them seeking out more of the author’s stories.
Illustration courtesy of sketchrobin.com
For more about the joy of stories, click here.
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