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 yaroslavshuraev.com 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.

-Lara

how it started, how it’s going

I bought my first book on writing when I was 15. Who knows where I even found it, since there were no bookstores for 60 miles in any direction. And I went back to my first three writing books when I started my MFA in 2018: Creating Unforgettable Characters, Writing the Script, and Writing Fiction. Yesterday I got my diploma in the mail. Today, this “how it started, how it ended” meme is going around on Twitter.

So many writing milestones involve publishing news or big investments. Most of our effort as writers may never become tangible beyond our words spilt in pixels or ink. It’s good to step back from the degrees and deals and remember why we started writing in the first place. I wrote because it gave me freedom to be whoever I wanted to be. To escape into another character for a while.

I hope I can remember that girl who decided she needed a book about writing unforgettable characters instead of whatever else may have been at that bookshop or thrift store. The girl who annotated it in ink, in pencil, in highlighter, multiple times over 16 years, by the public pool while waiting for swimming lessons to finish, in the car, on a bunk bed in a dorm, by the lake while my kids splash in the water, the handwriting shifting and changing over the years just like everything else. That first highlight in that first book is just as monumental to me as pulling this diploma out of its mailer.

Writing isn’t just having written. Writing isn’t just production. Writing is reading, and dreaming, and growing, and trying, and struggling, and researching, and breaking, and resting, and returning.

Wherever you are in your writing journey, I hope you can remember your first choices that led you here, the small victories and the big ones, the camaraderie around rejections, the breakthroughs, and the courage it takes to keep coming back to the page.

Do or Do Not, There Is No Try

do-or-do-not-larathelark-on-instagram

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Emphasis on the “do not.”

🌌

I always thought Yoda was kind of a jerk for saying “Do or do not, there is no try.” An A for effort isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes even trying is a trial.

Lately the big excuse in the Willard household has been “Well, I was going to…”

(Practically, this excuse is meaningless. I just want to know if the thing got done, if it still needs to get done, or if we can forget about it.)

We’ve given up a lot of things the past few months, and excuses are one thing we’ve held onto for too long.

Here’s why excuses have got to go:

You don’t give excuses unless you’re afraid of judgment. “I was going to” can go right into the recycling with “I really should” and shame and the Christmas decorations still up *cough* five months later.

We are overwhelmed by intentions and obligations, and if the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that I can stop the burden of trying and just do … or do not.

Thanks, Yoda.

Writing Progress Isn’t Always Measurable

Right now, it’s hard for anyone to write a set amount each day. Be kind to yourself and allow “incubation” time. Writing isn’t just putting words on the page—that’s measurable progress, but most human progress is abstract, immeasurable.

If you have ADHD (or are just feeling scattered because your routine has been uprooted), writing from home can be especially difficult.

I’ve updated my Writers with ADHD post to include a quote from Rick Hodges and his guest post for ADDitude Magazine. I hope it helps you allow yourself some inactivity.

“Some authors follow a disciplined process by writing a certain number of words or pages each day. I can’t fathom doing that. I have to write furiously when inspiration or motivation comes, followed by long periods of inactivity. Looking back, I see the lack of short-term gratification as a big drawback that caused me to procrastinate and set the manuscript aside for months at a time. I craved a quicker reward than writing a book provides. Showing my work-in-progress to writer’s groups helped to put me back on track, and when new ideas popped into my head that I could incorporate into the manuscript, it prompted me to get back to work.”

I’m also posting “motivational” quotes on my Instagram account (@larathelark) each Monday. Look for the Yoda post emphasizing the “do not” part of his quote.

I’d love to hear from you and see how you’re doing. Has time at home made writing easier or harder for you? If you have a writerly or bookish Instagram account I can follow, let me know!

❤ Lara

View original post, Tips & Tricks for Writers with ADHD

 

Lara Willard

Howard Tayler, Writing Excuses Podcast:

“Word count equals motivation times focus.”

If it’s motivationandfocus I need, I thought, no wonder my word count hasn’t budged in weeks.

This past summer, my son was diagnosed with ADHD. And the more I learned about ADHD—the more I unlearned what I thought I knew about ADHD—the more I understood my own brain’s struggles with trying hard things, getting started, and following projects through to the end.

It’s not laziness. It’s not a lack of intelligence. It’s not a matter of not knowing what to do.

It’s a gift (curiosity! humor! creativity! intelligence! fervor! ) … and a curse.

Watch This is What It’s Like to Have ADHD on Facebook

Whether hyperactive or inattentive (me) or combined (my son), ADHD can make writing long works difficult and make multiple rounds of revision feel impossible. But when people with ADHD…

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