Where Do I Start My Story?

Old library chair

Recently I watched the film “The Pursuit of Happyness” again with my son. It’s based on the true rags-to-riches story of entrepreneur Chris Gardner. I had remembered the story as nothing but inspirational, but on a repeat viewing, I was starkly reminded that it’s quite depressing…until the very end. But the end is spectacular enough to make watching two hours of his misery VERY worthwhile. In fact, it’s the unabashed portrayal of his year of tribulation that makes the ending as satisfying as it is. My son made the comment, “I’m glad they ended it where they did, right when his troubles ended and he got the great job” the one that set him on the path to multi-millionaire status. I had to agree. It was best to stop right when he reached his goal (to give the viewers hope that things like that could happen for them) rather than go beyond into that wealthy sphere that would’ve disconnected Chris Gardner from the lives of most viewers. The viewer didn’t want a fantasy; they wanted to see something that would inspire them to seek their own goals and the ability to achieve them.

And that put me in mind of an important concept in story writing. Where you begin and end your story is every bit as important as the story itself. Look at your main characters’ lives with all their “big moments”. By sliding your timeline even slightly forward or backward, you can significantly change the feel of your story. What message do you want to get across with your story? Where in your characters’ lives are their greatest trials and triumphs? Where does their story really begin? And, as tempting as it is to keep a good thing going, know where you need to stop, so that your readers are left with satisfaction and great memories of a well-told story.

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