Lit Basics Week
Well, the internet has a lot of entries when you search for the words "definition of story" (a lot possibly meaning millions). It's where many of us get our wisdom from, isn't it? One of the pages I selected said a "story" is defined as
"a narrative, either true or fictitious, prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale."
I like the definition, and although that's not the only thing that a story is, I believe it's a nice groundwork to build up from. The most interesting parts are the words "prose or verse
", and "designed to interest, amuse or instruct
": narrative, to me, implies the presence of a plot and so of a beginning-middle-end kind of structure. The second part tells me that a story needs to be told in a certain way. And "prose or verse" is a useful reminder that a story isn't only prose - it doesn't matter if your story is written in poetry or prose form, it's still a story and should respect its structure.
"Narrating", or: building a plot from beginning to end
This article aims to explain just the basics of story to you, with a focus on how important the end is, so I won't go into too much detail with the first two because I assume it's beginners who will be reading and profiting from this.
A narration is a retelling of events, really. In any story, something
is going on. If it's not, then what you're reading isn't a story but a descriptive piece.
In a story stuff happens, and all of what happens in your story is called "plot": the plot is divided into beginning, middle and end. It's very important to finish your story, no matter how short, with some kind of "end" without getting stuck in the action-packed middle, because without some sort of closure, all the story you just wrote will never make any sense.
The beginning, better explained as "introduction", is where your story starts taking shape. Whether you choose to make it a slow one, or one that takes you right in the middle of the action from the first paragraph, your beginning is what makes people want to keep reading: so be wise about it
. The beginning needs to contain enough information to not make your reader think "what the hell, I don't understand a single thing going on here, what's the point of this", but not reveal too much because if you say everything in there, you just gave away all of your story's plot and people won't go on reading!
The beginning is what hooks the reader. Remember that!
The middle, or: where things evolve and shit happens
Well, after your beginning did what a beginning does best, it's time to build the actual story. Most of the story takes place in the middle part, and some of the most important conflicts (that might still be unexplained or mysterious, what's left for the ending if we say everything here?) are also found here. There isn't a lot of final revelations in it, since the middle part is where the story is built, but not where it is concluded: a lot of things are understood and resolved, but the plot isn't over just yet.
The middle part of a story is where you explore the issues and aspects you want to focus on, as the writer: character building and plot building especially, since the success of your story depends on those. You have to do your best to keep the reader hooked, to convince them that they want to keep reading and find out how the story ends - so, in short, make it worth their time, make it interesting
. Since this is the main part of the story and the longest one too, it's where you'll have to work the most to entwine characters and plot into one single creature.
The end, or: let's wrap this up, guys!
A lot of people start writing a story without a real idea in mind of where they want it to head. That's fun and everything, but at the same time, you can never forget the fact that a story can't go on forever: imagine writing a series of events, creating a number of characters that your readers fall in love with, put them through all the struggles your mind can come up with, but then nothing happens... you keep on writing about their adventures, their lives but there is never the finish line in sight.
Stories can't be like that. Without an end, what does it mean to see all those characters suffer, become attached to them, live their adventures? Every story needs to be finished, even short ones.
Imagine taking out the last hundred pages from a Harry Potter book - the horror! All the things that didn't make sense before are brought together in this final part. The loose ends are tied - and you're not forced to tie all of them! The end can provide a partial conclusion for your storyline and keep a door open for something else. But there needs to be a conclusion of sorts: even in a series of books, although there is an underlying story that spans the whole series, each book has a story of its own, no? Again, I think the Harry Potter books are a perfect example of that, but every series in general is, pick your own!
The end can be tricky sometimes. But it's also sometimes more simple than what it seems: what was your story originally about? What did your characters do and why did they do it?
The ending uses all those things from the rest of the story to show the result of all of them
(did they manage to do what they had to do, or not? why?) and how it affects the protagonist
. Good endings make the reader feel something! They are what stays in the reader's mind and make them think about what they read. They don't necessarily need to explain everything completely, either, they can be subtle enough to let the reader guess how things likely went. But you have to build up to that guess so that the reader can actually guess
Another small, last thing about the end: endings are often tricky especially because readers have a lot of expectations about them
. Don't you, as a writer, have a lot of them also? After all, the characters and the story are your babies, you created them. Giving them the ending they deserve is just fair. (:
A short example
The usual love conflict. A is in love with B, but B loves C.
So in the beginning
it's explained who the characters are and why A loves B and how B loves C.In the middle
, it's written about A doing all she can to demonstrate to B how she loves him/her, and why she's better than C; B seems to appreciate the attention, but is clearly not in love with A. A doesn't give up, and asks a witch to give her the Ultimate Love Potion to give B. She sets out to meet B at his/her workplace. (NB: this plot is bad)In the end
, she arrives at the workplace and finds B with C, sharing an ice cream. The way they're sweet with each other and the love they emanate tells her she has no right to force B into loving her instead. She leaves the place, leaving the potion bottle on a cafeteria's table. Optional additional detail, Jumanji-like: someone picks the bottle up, looking at it with a puzzled look...
- how do you feel about the structure of stories? Poetry or prose, does that change anything?
- Beginning, middle and end - how does each part impact the overall outcome?
- Is there anything more you'd like to add to my words about the ending?