In life, there are many important moments. Some, such as graduating, getting married, or having a child, are some of what many consider to be the most important.
Like life, our written works contain a few moments that are the most important. In my journey as a writer, I have found the following to be 5 of the most important moments of a story (sorted chronologically):
1. The Beginning
Uh, ya think? Not only does the beginning of your story have the job of getting the narrative train rolling down tens of thousands of words, but it is also host to the all-important hook. This is where you give your reader a reason to keep going. Will they board the story train, or not?
2. The Point of No Return
Believe it or not, this is the point where the reason for your telling the story actually begins. Everything before it has just served to “set-up” the story. It is at this juncture where the world as your protagonist knows it has changed, and he or she has a new need or quest (i.e. solving the story problem). The conductor has jumped off the train as it loses control, and our hero makes the decision to help stop it.
3. The Midpoint Shift
About halfway through your story is another shift. This is a point where it is easy to let your story sag, but you can use it to add a new element or twist to the story. It is also the point in which your protagonist will make a decision, usually to take down the story problem. The train has switched tracks, and the previous plan to stop it is ruined. The hero takes matters into his own hands.
4. Failure is Imminent
This is the lowest point for the protagonist. All of their efforts are in vein, allies have died, and the antagonist is on the brink of winning. Everything the protagonist has worked for since the story problem began is for granted. The hero has made it to the brake switch in the lead car, but it is jammed.
5. The Ending
This one is pretty much a no brainer. If this list was in order of importance, this might be listed first. Here, the protagonist is able to take all they’ve learned as the story’s progressed, and solve the story problem (usually at great risk to themselves). It is usually the icing on the cake for the reader, if you deliver an ending that justifies their spending hours reading your story. The hero climbs below the train and manually activates the train’s brakes, getting injured in the process but saving everyone on board.
For additional resources on story structure, by which this post was inspired, check out Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. For screenwriters (and authors, too), check out Save The Cat! by Blake Snyder.
As a writer, I’m often asked a question that is immensely difficult for me to answer:
What is your story about?
When I hear this question, my brain rifles through many answers, but can never settle on just one. I often find myself starting my answer with details about the story’s premise, but end up switching gears somewhere. It’s not because I’m a scatterbrain (though some might argue against this), but because I feel that I have so much to say.
It’s like asking Henry Ford, “tell me some things about an automobile.” Would he respond with “oh, well, it has an engine, some doors, and four wheels?” No! He’d likely go into laborious detail about it, because of his intimate knowledge on the subject. Much to the chagrin of the questioner, no doubt.
As writers, we are experts in the field of our stories. No one knows them better than we do. So, it’s only natural to have the urge to over answer on such a question. So what if your cousin obviously stops listening to you 20 seconds later, they asked!
But what happens when the question is posed by someone other than your cousin? An agent or editor, perhaps? Is it necessary (or appropriate) to give a long, drawn-out explanation of your story?
As soon as possible, a writer should develop a short hook about the story that can be delivered in 15 seconds or less. Think of it as the description that will go on the back of your book someday.
Larry Brooks of Storyfix.com has a great post to help you do this that can be found here.
Remember, you’re the expert here, you’ve got plenty of material/ideas/thoughts to pull from to put your pitch together. It’s important that you give just the right amount of detail to grab your listener’s (or reader’s) attention, then end with a statement that will make them ask for more.
When has your pitch worked for you? Let me know in the comments below.