Lessons for Life, Writing Tools

Storytelling 101

We all tell stories, even as kids, we like to relate and share things that have happened. The accuracy of the stories may vary, especially with each retelling, but we tell both true stories and stories entirely made up. While this is something we all do from the time we are young, not everyone knows how to do it well.

The first step, is understanding that every story has three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Without any of these, you have an interesting fact rather than a story. Additional parts can be added to this structure that adds depth to the story, these can be found and developed through story mapping. But for the sake of this post, we will only talk about the three basic parts.

How to Tell the Beginning

In telling a story, you have to start somewhere. Clearly (as the song states in The Sound of Music), the beginning is a very good place to start. This establishes the world or setting in which the story takes place. A time period will likely be included in this as well as clues to the audience about whether this is a true story or entirely fictional. That is the purpose of the beginning, to establish the situation of the story. The problem of the story is also introduced in this portion.

To reduce confusion, the beginning of a story should give a good sense of what will be in the rest of the story. Unlike dreams, which introduce entirely new concepts, characters, and settings with no warning. So before the story turns into an adventure in Wonderland, give a clue that the story isn’t just about your afternoon activities. Start with “Once upon a time”, for example.

How to Tell the Middle

This should be when your story gets exciting, when one problem comes after another. The drama of the story should be building here. You want the audience to wonder what will happen next and how there could possibly be a solution.

Tips for this part of the story is to only include what is relevant. In my writing, I tend to want to add extra scenes or events but then later realize that they aren’t needed, and in fact make the story kind of boring because it doesn’t connect to the main problem. Don’t bog down the suspense with too many tangents.

How to Tell the End

The end, when all the loose ends are tied together and the audience is left with the final emotion. Whatever that emotion is, it should not be confusion. Otherwise, you missed something. The answer to the problem should be answered, and the details of the solution should be articulated. If the middle was a success, the audience is in suspense for the end. Don’t rush the end, be sure that the solution is told with satisfying detail.

Some stories only need a punchline, like jokes. While others need the complex problem to be unraveled one step at a time. The difference depends on the problem that was developed in the middle. If each complication adds more loose ends, then the solution will need to tie them all off. But if the complication only raises the stakes, then the solution is more simple, a win or lose. But how you get there is important to include.

The final portion of the ending is giving an idea of the final result of the story. Most often, a story has two parts to the ending result, the internal and the external. The external result may be that a character survived the final battle. While the internal part might be that the character has more gratitude for life.

The last tip for an ending; it has to make sense and be satisfying. Avoid story endings like Grug in The Croods. The ending should solve the problem, not invalidate any problem. You can’t drop a bomb on all the characters unless the story is about surviving a war, like in The Book Thief.

Telling a Story – in a Nutshell

In short, the audience wants to know the background of the story, what kind of problem came up and what is complicated about the problem, and then not only how the problem was solved, but also the ending result.

The best way to tell any story is in a way that you enjoy. Build to a climax and end with satisfaction.

Happy storytelling!

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