This is part 6 in a series. Part 1 starts here.

If you remember, we talked about the story arc and the character arc yesterday. One thing I said was that the beginning leads you to the middle and the ending leads you to ‘The End’. Let’s look at that more closely.

In the beginning of a story, we:

  • introduce who the people are (remember, people make stories)
  • introduce where and when the people are (14th century Rome vs. 24th century Mars vs. the Fourth Age in Unicorn City)
  • give the reader the Story Question

I alluded to the Story Question yesterday. The longer the story, the more questions it might raise, but there’s one overall question that keeps the reader going to the end to find out the answer. Usually it’s along the lines of “what happens to the main character?”, but it could be anything.

Let’s look at some examples–

The Wizard of Oz: Is Dorothy going to get home? (she does, quite nicely)

1984: What happens to Winston and his inner rebellion? (he is caught and tortured until he goes mad)

Dune: Does Paul survive the treachery of the Harkonnens? (he does, and avenges his father)

All these stories succeeded because they clearly set up the question and just as clearly answered it. The story does not have to have a happy ending (1984 is all the more chilling because it ends tragically) but it has to answer the question posed at the beginning.

Let’s jump to the ending for a moment. During the story, you’ll ask a lot of questions. The Wizard of Oz wasn’t just about Dorothy. It raised questions about Toto’s fate, about the other members of the party, and about the Wizard himself. But by the ending, all the biggest questions had been answered. (We never did find out where the Wizard ended up, but he was a minor character in the big story.) Remember, if you don’t answer the questions you pose, people are going to ask “what happened?”, and not be satisfied until they find out.

So your ending ties up the loose ends, so to speak.

The middle is where all the good stuff happens. Your characters have things happen that change them, or they change in such a way that they do things they never would have otherwise. They go on the quest, or have the adventure, or burn their cheating husband’s car. Just remember, during all this fun, that it has to make sense in the larger story and any questions you ask are answered in the ending.

Now some of you might be feeling restrained by all this talk of arcs and parts and structure. No worries. If you want to just sit down and start writing, feel free. But remember the questions you raise, and remember to answer them at the end. You’ll do fine.

So what did you write this week? Remember, writers write. Tell us about it!

We’ll talk more about writing tomorrow.