Every Great Story Ends

I couldn't tell you exactly when, but at some point during my education, I learned that stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Of course, that was back in the olden days of yore (that is, the late 1970s or early 1980s), when “platform” referred only to a style of shoe, and 140 characters was just enough for a decent subhead.

Today, though, regardless of venue, the value of the beginning-middle-end storytelling structure remains.

I started thinking about this as I've watched ardent supporters of Mitt Romney continue to provide examples of why President Obama’s reelection heralds the End of Civilization as We Know It. Folks, the election story ended a few weeks back. It reached a conclusion. The business of American politics carries on, though, and you could likely find a productive story within this ongoing saga, but the election result is a done deal.

Then there’s NaNoWriMo, the initiative in which participants write an entire novel in one month. My virtual hat is off to anyone who accomplished this feat. I’m impressed. The arrival of December 1 is not, however, the end of this particular story. Your novel needs to be edited—by you, surely, and also by someone else. Maybe more than one person. Then there’s a whole process of things that will happen to bring your story to readers, some of which involve telling those readers that your book exists (a.k.a., marketing). Kathleen Schmidt has written a wonderful piece about “off the shelf” marketing services, which I highly recommend. The only thing I’d add to it is that the “Personal Publicist” mentioned is likely someone with lots of enthusiasm, but not much experience or expertise.

But what about a story that you want to continue? A dialog that you want to start, so to speak, and have incite discussion in the longer term. I would still argue that the best way to tell this story is with a beginning, middle, and end. If you don’t get to a conclusion, people are left hanging, and aren't quite sure what to do. If you want them to engage, you need to conclude and give them something to react to. Think of your story in chapters, if that makes it easier.

As technology continues to move at warp speed, we can all be insiders, and sometimes I fear that storytelling is suffering as a result. It’s easy to assume that our audience—be it tiny or enormous—knows the bits we leave out. While I’m all for concise communications, this doesn't mean that just telling part of a story will ever really be effective. Nor that any story can just ramble on forever. My perfect corporate example is AOL. Some years back, they forgot to end their stories, and so now they’re just kind of…out there. Somewhere. Doing something. But nobody is quite sure what, why, or to whom.

I hope that as we see stories in all their forms proliferate across pages and screens in formats long and short, we also see storytellers of all stripes embrace the beginning-middle-end structure, understanding that ultimately this encourages creativity (not to mention productivity).

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