Telling Better Stories: Beginnings

I said in my last post on Telling Better Stories I’d do one on beginnings so here it is.

And your first lesson is that was not a great beginning. Just like only a bad story requires a conclusion at the end, a good story doesn’t start with an explanation. That’s actually best used as your second element. One de facto way to start a story is to make a statement, one that demands enough attention, and then explain it.

“How was your weekend?”

“Awful, I’ll never trust a clown with a video camera again.”

Unless that person hates you, they’ll ask for more information. Also you can use that as a way to see if people hate you.

Tactic two, the question. Generally I hate when people do this because it gets done really badly so tread careful round this one. A bad example:

“Hey do you like ice cream?”

“Yeah.”

“K, so I was at this ice cream place on Saturday and this chick comes up to me…”

kill yourself. Your audience will hate you the second they realize the question was an insincere ploy so you could talk. The only sincere way to do this is to not care if you get to your story. Asking someone a question means your top priority should be their answer, you listen. This includes if your story is one long request for advice. Like:

“Would you date someone who threw up on your sister?”

“No…”

“K, let’s say you didn’t like your sister because one time in an ice cream parlor she….”

So now you’re telling your story with the over-frame of asking for advice. You also have to actually consider the advice too, not just keep asking questions until you get the answer you want.

If you’re story is funny you can start by saying “Funny story…” and you can replace the adjective depending on the conversation, this is for those times when you’re just hanging out sharing memories and shit when you’re supposed to be working.

My favourite way to start a story though is by not starting at the beginning. 4 years ago, the second time I ever met Fitzy he told a story that I enjoyed so much I, and others, still know it word for word.

Enzo (seeing that Fitzy looked a little green): How you doin’ big guy?

Fitzy: Well I woke up to a note. “Dear Fitzy, don’t worry about work, I already called in for you, there’s an ice tea and half a meatball sub in the fridge, sorry about the headache, love, Drunk Fitzy.

Incredibly brief but a narrative none-the-less and it’s a narrative that perfectly starts at the end – waking up – rather than at the beginning – drinking, buying subs, and writing notes.

When you can successfully start a story at the end you’ve usually got your audience hooked because they want to know how you got there. Look at Fitzy’s story, “Well I woke up to a note…” the audiences first thought can’t be anything but wondering what the note says, it’s a perfect hook.

A problem people often run into is trying to start and the beginning. But life is an infinite recess, meaning you can’t really make a cake from scratch yourself unless you first create the universe. This is obtuse, I apologize.

But you get what I’m saying, even if you want to tell the story of your entire life you can’t start with your birth because your parents circumstances have tremendous influence. Okay, in real world terms what I’m saying is I hate it when people try to fill in all the information they think is relevant in a preamble before they actually begin their story. Example:

“My friend Joey works at this fish place and he just broke up with his boyfriend Dave because he had a cat, actually three cats, Betty, Veronica, and Charles Manson,  but one had just died, anyway Joey is newly single and he sees this couple get in a fight at an ice cream parlor…”

If you’re going to do a prologue only give me the information that I absolutely need. Also, don’t do prologues because you spoil the story by highlighting information that I absolutely need. You’re better off starting in the middle and doing asides to fill in gaps. And if you’re super good at it you can be really charming with how badly you do it. Watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang narrated by Robert Downy Jr, you’ll get it.

Okay I think that’s a good start on beginnings, pun unintended but accepted, feel free to chime in and make this a conversation not a narration. That last example got me thinking about names in stories so maybe that’ll be the next one of these or maybe I’ll forget completely for months.

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Singer/songwriter, jerk.

Posted in Pragmatism
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