Part one is here. Read parts one through three first.
Greetings, fellow authors!
How can we be authors? you ask. Easy. You just wrote a story. You aren’t a published author, but we aren’t there yet. Authors write, pedestrians use their feet to get around. You’re a toddler, not a marathon runner. But you’re still a pedestrian. Learn to walk. Don’t look down on yourself for not being able to run.
What have we learned so far?
- Writers write. I hope these exercises made you excited about writing. It’s okay to go do that. The more the better.
- There are no new ideas. Don’t be afraid to use someone else’s basic idea, and don’t be afraid of someone stealing yours.
- Stories come from inside you. You already have the stories. You just have to write them. No one else can write a story exactly like you.
So what is a story?
Lesson number four: A story tells an event or series of events, and has a beginning, middle and ending.
A really short story might just tell about one event (like yours did), but if it doesn’t have a beginning, middle and ending, it won’t satisfy the reader. We know that instinctively.
Just think of when you’re telling about something that happened at work or school. If you stop in the middle, what’s the first thing people say?
What happened? Tell us the ending!
See how easy this is? It’s not some mysterious thing. Anyone can write a story.
So why is this important?
Ah, here’s where we get to the really good stuff. Because unless you’re writing very short stories, you’re going to write about more than one event. But the basic idea is the same.
Let’s talk briefly about the concept of the scene, the basic building block of a story. A scene is one event. It has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. It is a little story in itself.
Get out your story you wrote yesterday. This is a scene. Just like real life, something happened before, and something happened after. But since this has a beginning, middle and ending (it should), it’s a one-scene story.
But what if your real story is bigger than that? What if this exciting event is just the beginning? What if it’s the happy ending? What if it’s the middle of some larger story?
This is like the difference between taking a close up portrait and stepping back to take the group shot. The difference is your focus.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with the concept of fractals, but if not, you’re going to learn a little science today. Fractals are shapes that are similar whether you look at them closely or far away. Fractals are found everywhere.
Think of a tree. It has a main trunk and branches that go out on each side. Now think of a branch. It has a straight main section with twigs that go out on each side. A twig has a main section, with leaves going out on each side. Now think of a leaf. What does it have? A stem and little veins that go out on each side. A leaf is like a tree.
What does this have to do with writing? Well, remember how a scene has a beginning, a middle, and an ending? So does a story with many scenes in it. Longer stories have beginning scenes, middle scenes, and ending scenes. The same structure, only bigger. We are pulling back our focus to look at the group shot instead of the portrait.
When we do this, though, the story changes. It has to be about something larger than any one scene, just like a tree has a lot more going on than one leaf does.
Here’s something you can do: take your scene and think of what might have happened around it, either to get to where you were or what might have happened afterwards.
Let’s say I chose to use the “raft going over a waterfall” story that I got from changing elements in my real-life rollercoaster experience. How did I get on the raft? What happened after I went down the waterfall and got to the bottom? Each of those questions would be a scene, with its own beginning, middle and ending.
For example, if I chose the scene where I went down the waterfall as my middle, I could still write the story many ways. It could be that I was there with a group, and there was a dispute about going so close to the falls. Or it could have been a mistake in navigation. After we went over and survived, we could have become closer. Or it could have torn the group apart.
You see, even with the same middle scene, the story could still be about many things. Camaraderie, hatred, survival, teamwork, just to name a few.
I could write the waterfall scene as my beginning. After that, those on the raft might be fine, and go on to have some adventure. Or some could die, or be hurt, and the rest of the story deal with the aftermath. Perhaps going over the falls now means that the group is hopelessly off course.
Again, the same beginning scene, but with different middle and ending scenes, the story is different.
This is why I said earlier not to worry about ideas right now, either taking or leaving. Because the chance of your three-scene story having the exact same beginning, middle, and ending as someone else’s is astronomically low, even if you took the basic idea of going over a waterfall in a raft.
So let’s get out your scene from yesterday, where you changed the elements from your real-life experience. This is where you get to make some decisions, and none of them are wrong.
Do you want your scene to be a beginning, middle, or ending scene? If it’s a beginning scene, you have to figure out what happens in the middle, and what happens in the end. If it’s a middle scene, you have to figure out what happened before and what happens after. If you put this scene as the ending, make up beginning and middle scenes to tell us how you got there.
Make sure each scene tells a little story on its own, with a beginning, a middle and an ending.
At this point, you can summarize your scenes if you want to post them here. I think you’ll find each three-scene story unique and interesting.
Here’s mine. I’m going to put my waterfall scene in the middle, just because I can:
Beginning scene: Three wildlife photographers are on a river. They get distracted taking pictures and suddenly realize it’s getting late, too late to portage around the waterfall, and now there are predators on the shore on both sides. They decide to try and anchor the raft and sleep there.
Middle scene: The anchor doesn’t hold, and they wake up to realize they are on their way down the river towards the falls. They try their best to stop the raft, but they go over the falls anyway. On the way down the raft flips and they are thrown into the water.
Ending scene: They wake washed up on the shore and are found by another set of hikers. Their equipment and film is lost and/or destroyed by the water. They realize their focus on taking pictures instead of on safety cost them the pictures they came to get.
Although my story had nothing to do with rollercoasters, I think you can see how I’m using that experience for this story. For the before and after scenes, I’m using other feelings too: the way I get sidetracked or totally focused on what I’m doing, sometimes to the detriment of other things, for the first scene. The feeling of “that was a bad choice” in the ending.
The “it’ll be fine” attitude that prompted these three guys to anchor their raft above a waterfall isn’t at all me, but something I’ve seen a lot in others. You can use other people’s attitudes as well as your own, as long as you understand them well enough to make them realistic.
Try using your scene as part of a larger three-scene story. Write a summary of the beginning, middle, and ending scenes and post this story summary as a comment here, just as I did for mine. Have fun!
I’ll give you over the weekend to work on this and to let any newcomers catch up. If you have any questions, please ask. We’ll talk about this more on Monday.