Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Three Elements a good story needs

Of all the absolute “rules” for writing, one rule is never mentioned but I have never seen a good story that violates this one. I have seen too many bad books and movies that violate this rule.

There are three things a good story needs, A beginning, a middle, and an end. Every single book or movie I have liked had these things.

What got me thinking about this was I watched Spiderman II the other day. I had seen it before but for the life of me could not remember what happened. After watching it again I still don't. But I did notice the profound lack of a beginning or an end.

I have liked books that switched things up a bit, started at the end and had the beginning in the middle and that sort of thing. But they still had a beginning and an end. When a story doesn't have all three elements it is not a story. It is just looking at a characters daily life, even the most interesting of characters can't stand up to that sort of peeping.

The beginning:

I've talked about this before, this is the event that changes the character's life and gets the ball rolling. Fred going to work at an accounting job is not a beginning unless he finds something strange that changes his life that day.

It is the same with Superheroes or Monsters. Batman patrolling the streets of Gotham City, isn't a story it's part of the neighborhood watch. His running into a new supervillian that makes him have to change tactics is the beginning of a story.

The middle:

Stuff happens to move the main character towards the end. Without an end there is no middle.

The end:

Not every single plot thread needs to closed, and evil doesn't have to be punished but there needs to be an end. Even in the middle of a trilogy there is an end to the storyline started that second chapter. EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is a great example:

Beginning: Our heroes are going their separate ways.

Middle: They learn they need each other. It's a handy lesson for Luke.

End: They vow to reunite.

No matter what genre you write in, except free form poetry, make sure your writing has a beginning, a middle, and an End.


  1. "Fred going to work at an accounting job is not a beginning" could be a beginning if it sets the story going. Some stories are more mundane than others and they don't all involve life-changing events. But it's probably not the most exciting beginning (or the most memorable story). But you're completely correct that a beginning really starts when something changes, something that sets the story into motion. I also note that sometimes elements that get the ball rolling aren't obvious even part of the story then much later (like the letter Dante had in Count of Monte Cristo) - it took a long time to understand the letter's significance.

    Having said all that, I agree that all good stories have all three of these elements and I can't think of a story I've liked that hasn't.

  2. I agree that Fred going to his accounting job could be a beginning if he found out his firm was funneling money through the Illuminati to elect werewolves to the Senate, and what he does with that information. If he seeks out allies to stop it, it is a beginning. If he fills out a form 4978T to clear the action with the FEC and goes back to work. Not a beginning.
    I've never liked a story without all three elements but I have been forced to read Stephen Crane's reconstruction period stories where his theme was God doesn't care about the struggles of man, It turned me off of all reconstruction era literature.