Storytelling Class — Beginnings, Middles and Ends

Every week, my daughter Freya and I have a “storytelling class.” Really, it’s just a fun opportunity to chat about writing stories. This week, our topic was beginnings, middles and ends.

We always start with two questions: what did we read and what did we write over the past week?

What Did We Read?

We each read a lot of things this week!

I read the usual fiction blogs, and a whole bunch of graphic novels from the library:

Freya read:

She also continued reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

(FYI – bookshop.org links are my affiliate links)

Freya really enjoyed the Iliad and the Odyssey, although she said she likes the Odyssey better. She enjoyed the cliffhangers in the Odyssey and the perspective shifting between Odysseus and Penelope.  She didn’t like the limited choice that Penelope seemed to have in the story, and I don’t blame her. We discussed the agency of women in ancient Greece and in our society today.

What Did We Write?

I wrote a few blog posts, and worked on Razor Mountain chapter 7. It’s going to be the longest chapter so far, by a significant margin.

Freya wrote her Ivan reading journal at school, and a 101-word story. She was inspired by my explanation of drabbles, and decided to write one herself! However, she tried to write it in a single draft, and had a hard time finding an ending at exactly 100 words. Hence the 101.

I explained that my process for drabbles is to write a first draft that’s relatively short, but captures the story that I want. Then I trim it down over several drafts until I get to exactly 100 words. Drabbles really force brutal cutting, and I explained that she was making it extra hard on herself by trying to do it all in one go.

Last Week’s Homework: Ten Story Ideas

Freya and I talked through some of the story ideas that we came up with for last week’s homework. She only came up with eight, but eighteen ideas is still a lot to get through, so I won’t go into great detail in this post.

Freya’s ideas included movie scripts and a series of Felix the Cat stories (no, a different Felix the Cat), as well as a story based solely on an interesting title. We got the idea that she often likes to start with a particular media or “shape” of story and figure out the details afterward, which is interesting, and different from the approach I usually take.

Beginnings, Middles, and Ends

The main topic for this class was beginnings, middles and ends.

We often split stories into three parts, because three parts feels good (the “rule of threes”) and because the beginning and end tend to have specific things that need to happen, and the middle holds everything together. A lot of talk about three act structure can also be said to be about beginnings, middles and ends.

Beginning (Act I)

Beginnings introduce the important characters, the setting (or world), the situation, and any overarching mysteries.

Beginnings often start with a “hook,” which is something exciting that draws the reader into the story long enough to get them…well…hooked.

The beginning typically includes an “inciting incident,” something that goes wrong or changes the status quo. This incident breaks normality, forcing the action of the story.

Middle (Act II)

In the middle, the characters pursue their goals and try to overcome the main conflict through try/fail cycles. They progress mysteries without completely solving them. Most of the interesting action in the story happens here, and this is usually the biggest chunk of the story.

How do the characters deal with their “broken normal?” Do they try to restore the old order, or make a new order?

Ending (Act III)

The ending should bring the story to a resolution. It may be “happily ever after,” or not. This is where big mysteries should finally be solved. It’s where big questions should finally be answered. Characters succeed or fail at their major goals, or change goals completely.

At the end, the main conflict should be over. The villain should be defeated (or at least no longer in opposition to the good guys).

The major characters will often be clearly changed or have learned something by this point. This is the time to highlight that.

The most important thing here is that the story feels resolved. Finished. The world and characters may go on, but the story is done and they’re moving past it.

Examples

We talked through some different ways you can delineate the three parts in some particular stories, including The Martian, The Lord of the Rings, and the Harry Potter series, as well as Freya’s own Felix the Cat story from last week’s class.

There aren’t hard-and-fast definitions for splitting up stories, so it’s up to each reader’s own interpretation where the transition from beginning to middle or middle to end occurs.

Series

Freya also asked about series such as books in a trilogy (or septology or whatever-logy) and episodes in a TV show.

Typically, each piece of the whole should have a beginning, middle and end, and work at least somewhat on its own. However, there may be larger arcs that span all the books, or a whole season, or only a few episodes. These larger arcs will also have their own beginning, middle and end.

On the other hand, some series, especially comedies, rely on a basic premise that remains the same. Each episode contains a beginning, middle and end. The characters resolve a problem and everything returns to baseline “normal,” ready for next week’s episode.

There are other, stranger ways that series can be handled, but I think this covers the majority. Maybe in a future class we’ll go into other, more unusual styles.

Homework

The homework for next class was to write another short 1-2 page story, thinking specifically about the beginning, middle and end, and what happens in each.