Where does your Story Start and End?
We know who the protagonist is and what they want and what's standing in their way. We know who's narrating. Now, we wanna ask, okay, we've got that timeline. What is my timeline of my story? Where does it start and where does it end? Just asking these questions, not getting into what happens in the middle, but just what is the timeframe of this story? What is the span of time that it covers? Does it happen in a weekend, does it happen over three months, is it 17 years? Where does it start and where does it end? Here's a thing to know about that. Stories are about change. Something changes, something has to change. It has to be something we can feel, and see, and know. Now, that can be, as we said before, someone's perception. It can be somebody's place in the world. They can become queen. They can just become, they could become committed to a relationship they weren't committed to. They could fall in love, they can fall out of love, it doesn't matter what it is or how dramatic it is, ...
but something must change. That's what we're looking for is some version of change, and if we think about that, we can then think about an arc of change. That's the basic form of a story, the basic structure. We start, something changes, and we end in a different place, and there's moments along the way. That's the basic structure. The protagonist starts in one place and they end up in another. Knowing that, what we can do is we can look at just the start and ending points. If you only look at that, it's amazing how much information you can glean about your story. We're gonna, in the workbook I asked you to plot out three pairs of a start and an end. Think of this like a bookend or a frame. You're just looking, where does it start, where does it end? That's it and what is that arc of change? They start in one place, they end up in another. I asked you to do it three times because usually in so doing, we come up with all kinds of really interesting information and I'm gonna go through an example of that in a minute. In the workbook, you wanna sketch out these pairs, these three pairs of the start and the end together. When you're turning it into your coach, we're gonna, we wanna see the brainstorm. We wanna see your work on that because there's a lot that we call tell from that. What you wanna ask yourself is which is the strongest? I have an example of three pairs of start and end points that someone in our studio shared with us. We're gonna look at those and think about those. These are from Jenny,. Jenny did three start and end points and I will attempt to summarize your story. Jenny's writing a memoir about a high-risk pregnancy and trying to figure out how to get into this and out of this. Now, what's interesting with a pregnancy is there's pretty obvious start and stop points in most pregnancies, but what I found interesting about the choices that Jenny made is that, and you said this in your, earlier to me, that they all sort of started in the same-ish place. That they, it's a high-risk pregnancy because there's a condition that you have and then you end up with a healthy baby. This one is, you can't get pregnant because of this high-risk condition and you end up with the baby. Then, you discover you're pregnant, but there's this high-risk condition and you end up, well, this one is with the shot. What's interesting about this, having these three choices, is it lets us start looking at that structure and shape, and that arc of change. The reason I think it's interesting is because the one that you choose, the one that you end up choosing is gonna, is gonna be completely dependent on the point you wanna make. That's what's so interesting is, now, remember I talked about this iteration. Now, we're gonna go back and we're gonna look at what point do you wanna make in your book, Jenny? I'm putting you on the spot. Do you know? (giggling) What point about high-risk pregnancy?
Um, well, with high-risk pregnancy, your end-game is not assured. There's a lot of fear in there. It's more of we hope we're having a baby than we know we're having a baby, and we're decorating the nursery and this is all rainbows and kittens. It's very different and it's very lonely. Nobody talks about those things, and so I'm writing the book to not only let people know that they're not alone, but to also let them know that there's, this conversation is out there to be had.
That's so beautifully said. Your point is you want people to feel less alone who might be in a similar situation and to give them hope and community, and to be there for them. If we think about your ideal reader, then it's pretty clear. Your ideal reader is somebody who may be in a similar situation, a similar high-risk pregnancy, or a similar unsure time of their life where their, they wanna read about how do I get through this uncertainty? What's interesting is when we think about that, is the arc of change then that you went through. When I look at this, I think, okay, here's the person. This is a drug, I don't know what it is, but I know it's a drug for your condition.
To keep from getting a blood clot.
Keeps you from getting blood cot and then you get the shot. I would ask here, so what? So what, you don't die. (stuttering) That's like pretty bold, but that's it, right? So, what? If you don't get these, you don't die.
If you don't get the shots, you or the baby die.
Okay, so what is at risk is human life. (giggling) That's pretty intense, but for my ideal reader who wants to feel less alone, who wants to know that this conversation is happening, who wants to see somebody else be in it, is that the greatest point that you could make to show them do you think? Even though it's like the most life and death-ish, is that what's gonna make them feel what you want them to feel?
I don't know.
What I would suggest is that this one, ending up with a healthy baby, in my mind feels strangely flat. Even though this is totally what this is about, it's like, okay, you had a high-risk pregnancy. It was touch-and-go, it was scary, and you ended up with a healthy baby, but this one to me has all kinds of resonance in a different way. Being alone with the baby for the first time at home, that I can suddenly feel. I feel what that must feel like. I feel, I can see it. Do you see how birthing a healthy baby you can't really see? You kinda can't really see it. It's not a moment in time. Going to get a shot, I don't wanna read a book where the end is the woman goes and gets a shot. That's kinda like flat, you know? I mean, I'm really happen you're alive. (giggling) I'm really happy that the baby's alive, but I, it doesn't feel resonant whereas this, being alone with the baby for the first time at home, that has so much emotion in it. It's not just that you had a healthy baby and that you lived. It's, you're a mom now. You're in a whole other place. You're caring for another individual and you are, have to do it alone. It really, like you were saying, it's about loneliness, but for me that was the big neon sign. Was you, your point was to make your ideal reader feel less alone and being alone, you literally say it, "Being alone with the baby." It's like you are alone, person out there reading my book, but you're not alone. Other people have been there. Other people have made this journey. Other people have gotten through and it's not just that they got a healthy baby or they didn't die. It's that they made this journey. They survived this difficult thing. Do you see that? I feel that she's like, no, I don't see that. (giggling) Does anyone else see that?
They're all nodding, okay, Jenny, why don't you see that?
I'm too close to it, that's what my problem is.
Okay, so, I'm gonna use the audience to take a poll. Does anybody disagree with me? Raise your hand if you disagree with me. Look at this, literally not one person. To me, it's so super-obvious. I look at this and it seems really harsh, but that's why we do it this way. These little, teeny like, don't come to me with 250 pages where you wrote this book, and I'm like (grunting), (students laughing) I don't, why do we care? Just do it in two little, tiny bullet points that we can see and it's like, oh, yeah, I wanna read that book. That's amazing and you can't get pregnant, it's high-risk, there's life and death stakes, it's totally intense and this is where we're gonna end up. Knowing those start and end points lets you, it all goes back to the foundational things we did. What point do you wanna make? Who's your ideal reader? You're the protagonist in this story and that's what we were talking about before with memoir. You get to choose who you are as the protagonist. What part of you you're sharing, what part of you you're bringing forth, what journey you're taking the person on. We want the one that ties into why you wanna write this book and what your readers come to this book for. When you do these sketches and you're sketching out your own three sets of start and ending points, do them and play around with it. It's wet clay, but then go back to your point. Go back to your why, why are you writing this story? Yours was so profoundly beautiful. You want people to not feel so alone and what's totally missing in this whole conversation is your book is actually really funny. (laughing) And that's part of what Jenny wanted as well. She wanted to bring a funny voice and lightness to it, which you do, but totally missing in this. Which is actually a really important point. This is not about the writing yet. It's about the structure and we just gotta get that structure right. You may end up disagreeing with the collective universe of people who like this one, and that's completely fine. You're the god of your own story, but I would just suggest that you make really conscious choice about what that arc of change is. Make sure it ties back to who your reader is and the point that you wanna make, and your deep-level why.