One of the biggest problems writers face when creating a story is how to get started. The worst way to get started is to start writing because this will guarantee you’ll wind up writing pages of words that you’ll need to throw away later. A far better solution is to start by defining the beginning and end of your story first.
The beginning scene introduces the hero and also introduces the hero’s dream. This dream is essentially the opposite of what the hero has in the present and poses an initial question that gets answered in the end. Together, these two scenes alone define the life changes the hero goes through within the story. We won’t know how the hero has changed, but the beginning and ending scenes show us where the hero began and where the hero wound up.
In “Big,” the hero wants to become big (an adult), and this poses an initial question of what will happen to him when he becomes big? Then by the end, the hero wishes to go back to his original age again after he realizes that being big isn’t what he really wants after all.
In “Avatar,” the hero is a paraplegic Marine who wants to walk again, which poses the question on whether he’ll succeed in getting his legs back. By the end, the hero does walk again but after his soul has been transferred into the body of his alien avatar.
In “The Shawshank Redemption,” the hero wants to be free, which poses the initial question of whether he’ll succeed. By the end, the hero manages to gain his freedom anyway.
The beginning and ending scenes are tied together because the beginning scene poses a question and the ending scene answers it. Strip away everything in the middle and put the beginning and ending scenes together, and they should tell a complete story that shows how the hero’s life has changed.
- A young boy makes a wish to become big, and magically becomes an adult.
- After he realizes he no longer wants to be an adult any more, he makes a wish and goes back to being a boy again.
- A paraplegic Marine wants to get an operation so he can walk again.
- By the end, the Marine transfers his body into an alien avatar so he can walk again.
“The Shawshank Redemption”
- A man, sentenced to prison for the murder of his wife, wants to be free.
- By the end, he finally digs his way out after twenty years so he’s finally free.
The beginning and ending scenes should describe the change in the hero’s life from the start to the end. Pick a favorite movie and pair the beginning scene with the ending scene. Do these two scenes alone show how the hero’s life has changed?
Pick a mediocre movie and pair the beginning scene with the ending scene. Do these two scenes alone show how the hero’s life has changed? Often times movies are mediocre precisely because the beginning and ending scenes fail to match and support each other, which creates a disjointed, unsatisfying story.
In “Don’t Worry Darling,” the opening scene shows the hero living a happy, carefree life in what appears to be a 1950s world. Then the ending scene shows the hero escaping this 1950s world. So the hero has gone from happy to free. Notice these two scenes don’t seem to match? That’s part of what makes “Don’t Worry Darling” a mediocre movie.
Start with the beginning and the end as a paired set of scenes. Once you define how the story starts and ends, it’s much easier to write the scenes in between.