Beyond Beginning, Middle & End

“A story has a beginning, middle, and end!”

Is it just me, or is this just the writer version of the “How to Draw an Owl” meme?

1. Draw some circles. 2. Draw the rest of the ******* owl.

If the whole “beginning, middle, end” thing never did much for you, either, try this:

Think of a story, not as beginning, middle & end, but as a change with a before, an after, and all of the trial, error, and perseverance in between.

I’ll use Yaroslav Shuraev’s videos to illustrate. Here’s a moment—a woman at the summit of a mountain.

We’ll use this as the ending of our story, just for simplicity’s sake.

What happened at the beginning of this day? Probably the hiker getting ready. But a beginning and an ending don’t make a story:

Something has to happen in the middle. Let’s say the hiker saw some flowers on the way up the mountain. We could add something like this:

Does this feel like a story to you? Or does it feel like a series of events?

We know that stories need conflict or obstacles to create drama. So let’s add some obstacles in the middle:

Adding obstacles creates conflict, and conflict turns a series of events into a story.

…But obstacles don’t necessarily mean a character is changing.

Did the hiker change at all during that series of events? It’s hard to say. What makes her climb of that mountain any different from anyone else’s?

What makes this climb significant? Worth telling a story about?

As writers, we have to be intentional about our choices of conflict, setting, and character.

To create a dynamic character who changes over the course of the story, instead of thinking beginning and end, think before and after.

Let’s go back to the hiker alone on the summit of the mountain. If that’s her after, what if this is her before?

The hiker wasn’t always alone.

Giving the solo hiker a companion at the beginning shows that something has changed from then to her alone at the top of the mountain.

Now we can add a bit of a montage of before and afters (yeah, OK, I’m not a film editor):

Awkward transitions aside, a story is starting to emerge. Can you feel it?

Did you notice that I took out the original “beginning” of the hiker tying her boots? It wasn’t significant, so it got cut.

That obstacles clip—where she runs out of breath but decides to keep going—did that affect you a bit more the second time around, knowing her “before”?

To give a character a before and an after is to create change.

What got our hiker from before—climbing together with this other hiker—to after—hiking alone?

The answer to that question is the “middle” of the story: the trials and errors and perseverance that changed her relationships and changed her as person.

I’d love to hear what kind of story you can make from this before and after. The hows and whys and whens and wheres, and the whos and whats that brought our hiker to that mountaintop.

Your intentional choices are what makes a story yours. For more inspiration from Yaroslav Shuraev’s gorgeous and story-provoking images and video, see more footage from his hiking shoot or follow him at or on Instagram @yaroslav_shuraev.

Think of a story, not as beginning, middle & end, but as a change with a before, an after, and all of the trial, error, and perseverance in between.

Now as much as ever, humans need stories that can inspire them to persevere, stories that show change.

Write on.


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