Many of us take for granted the idea of “Beginning,” “Middle” and “End” with regard to story structure. But what do those words actually mean? Is there a more helpful way to look at plot? How does all this relate to eating a sandwich?
What are the most common problems of beginning storytellers? Nearly every struggling beginner has urgent concerns like these:
- Practicing is hard. I put it off, then get more and more desperate as my performance date approaches.
- How do I remember the story? What if I forget in the middle? How can I memorize?
- What if they don’t listen to me? Aren’t there some tricks I can learn, to guarantee their attention?
- For me, the only word that follows “performance” is “anxiety.” My mouth is dry, my palms are sweaty, my voice is unsteady. Instead of telling this story, couldn’t I just die?
I believe that all these common storytelling preoccupations stem, at least in part, from the same causes! In fact, they can all be cured (and, even more easily, prevented) quite simply.
I searched in Google recently for “elements of a story.” The many results were dominated by topics like:
- The 3 parts of a story;
- The 4 elements of a story;
- The 5 steps of a plot;
- The 7 (or the 8 or the 12 or the 17) stages of the Hero’s Journey.
I read quite a few of these articles (and even a few books on Amazon) about the parts of finished stories. Interestingly, they all seemed to assume that knowledge of these parts is essential to making a story.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that these lists of story elements are useless. But I object to the idea that simply knowing them helps us create stories. In fact, they can easily get in the way.