Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Most of us were taught this basic principle back in our early school years when we first began reading and writing. This concept carried over to middle and high school where every essay had an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.
This straightforward idea can occasionally turn out to be more of a challenge than we initially imagine. The early stages of crafting a story typically start with brainstorming and research. We read background materials, gather facts and data. We may do an interview or several interviews with different people. Somewhere in that process, an angle (or in academia, a thesis) is formed. Then the work of constructing the story begins.
But what happens when the starting point of the story isn’t clear? Once we’ve gathered all of the information, where do we begin? The first struggle is often determining where to begin to tell the story we’re trying to share. Do we tell it chronologically? Do we start with an interesting tidbit to grab the reader’s attention and branch off from there? And then, what’s next? How do we wrap this story up in a logical and interesting place?
I had this challenge recently when writing a feature article. I had done my research and the interview, and gathered my notes. But I wasn’t sure where to begin. I knew what I wanted to say I just didn’t know how to say it.
I had the whole story written and yet it wasn’t finished. It was like having a bunch of puzzle pieces – they’re all part of one big picture. It’s about discovering which ones fit together. There are many different approaches and finding the right one isn’t always easy.
I tried cutting and pasting, reordering paragraphs and just couldn’t find a sequence that felt right. Finally, I had to take the story off the Word document and onto a different format where I could work it out.
This is what my living room floor looked like.
I created a 3×5 index card to correspond with each paragraph of my story by jotting down a few words about each paragraph on a card and laid them all out in front of me. I moved the cards around, playing with the pieces of the puzzle. After reordering them a few times, I changed my typed-up document to reflect the new sequence. When that didn’t work, I tried it again.
Until finally, I found the right fit. This exercise helped me see the story in a different way.
There isn’t any one “right” way of putting a story together. There’s something to be said for laying a story out in another visual format besides one long document on a screen. It helped me see it in another way and find a beginning, a middle, and an end that worked.
Have you ever had this problem when trying to tell a story? What technique helped you?