Telling better stories: middles

A few weeks ago I helped someone with a writing project and having to explain things that I understand intuitively opened my eyes to a lot of things about the way we communicate.

So what I’m going to talk about first is not beginnings. Most people are good at beginning a story, you just start talking and even if it’s a terrible beginning and you have to go back and say things you should have said at least the ball is rolling. I’ll do a blog on beginnings too I promise but they are the least important part of the story trinity. We all know the story trinity goes beginning, middle, end. And in verbal story telling your pretty locked into that order. What I see a lot of people do is tell stories as beginning, end, conclusion. Like:

last week this happened and she was mad, so this week this happened and she’s more mad, and that’s not fair.

I’ll talk about conclusions in the future too but we’re on the topic of middles. Think about a joke. What’s the most important part The set up or The punch line? Neither, it’s the time in between.

And maybe you’re thinking that all stories aren’t jokes and that is why you fail, to quote Master Yoda. All jokes – no matter how short – are stories. If you can tell a good joke you can tell any kind of story. And back to conclusions, what don’t you do at the end of a joke? Explain.

So how to have a good middle? The simplest way a summary. This is what my dad calls “No Shit There I Was” stories. Basically you just remind your audience of all the details before you hit the ending.

So I’m on the cliff, Rob still has all the rope, my stomach is killing me from that breakfast, and I thought well fuck, Tina was right.

To be great at this technique you’ll have to shift your tone and even body for this part. Now that it’s on your mind you’ll see stand up comics who are masters at it. It puts a quiet moment in so you the ending can feel bigger, like a breakdown before a final chorus for all you songwriters.

The other way, that works better for stories that aren’t fun at all, is to show the effects of the beginning.

This happened last weekend and she was mad at me so all week at work it was on my mind, I was making little mistakes and just running the argument over in my head so this weekend when it started to happen again I just blew up.

Putting the listener in your head space is the difference between a good story and trivia on a topic no one but you cares about.

Okay that’s my general off-the-cuff thoughts, comments and questions are encouraged on this one and we’ll dig into it together. On this topic next I’ll either do Beginnings or a list of Don’ts because that’s just been looping in my head all week.


Singer/songwriter, jerk.

Posted in Pop Culture, Pragmatism, Songwriting

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