Beginnings, middles, ends… my workshop (ii)

I was lucky and delighted to be invited to give a workshop for Weston-super-Mare Literary Festival for the second year. This year I decided to think about beginnings, middles and ends; there were about twenty people and we really had a very good afternoon – I hope they all enjoyed it, I certainly did.

As you might guess, I started with beginnings, and moved on to middles – a story can have a cracking start, and dramatic and satisfying ending, but become like porridge in the middle… how can we avoid that when we’re writing?

We were looking at two very simple stories:

  1. Two young children went to get a drink; one of them fell over and tripped the other child so they both ended up on the ground.
  2. A young boy was a well-known bully and delighted in being cruel to animals. He thought it great fun to throw a kitten into some water. Luckily another boy saw what had happened and rescued the cat.

We then looked at how those simple series of events could be written –

  1. Two children, Jack and Jill, went up the nearby hill to collect some water. Jack fell over and tripped  Jill so they both ended up on the ground
  2. An alarm sounded! Ding-dong! went the bell and people began to shout. There was a cat which had been thrown down a well – apparently it was John Green who had been so callous and cruel – no-one was surprised, it was typical of him!Tom Stout, a lad who’d been bullied by Johnny, ran to the well, climbed down and rescued the cat.
    Mr. Smith, of Green Valley farm who owned the animal, gave Tom a reward – that cat was a great mouser!

Did you guess the origin of those little narratives? So, thinking about them, how can you write to avoid having a soggy middle…

  • You have your characters…
  • … you have a setting  – in time and a place…
  •  … now you need to tell what happens…
  •   … which will lead, eventually, to the ending

What you don’t want to be is boring, no reader wants to plod through word… after word… after word… line after line… page…..

Avoiding that soggy middle is about how you tell your story; you need:

  • the events: what happens
  • the reason behind the events: why they happen
  • the triggers to the action: how it happens
  • the extras: information to understand the story
  • the complications: unexpected events which change the situation
  • the climax: the exciting bits when everything changes, the turning point

We returned to the story of John Green and Tom Stout, the characters in the nursery rhyme, and we filled in some imagined background detail, and then I gave everyone a short exercise – and I was amazed, blown away by the results of their ten minute thinking and scribbling!

I gave them some other nursery rhymes, Little Boy Blue:

Little Boy Blue,
Come blow up your horn!
The sheep in the meadow!
The cows in the corn!
“Oh where’s the boy who looks after the sheep?”
“He’s under the haystack fast asleep!”
“Will you wake him?”
“No, not I! For if I do he’s sure to cry!”

Doctor Foster went to Gloucester,
In a shower of rain;
He stepped in a puddle,
Right up to his middle,
And never went there again

Mary had a little lamb
Whose fleece was white as snow.
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go.
He followed her to school one day,
It was against the rules.
It made the children laugh and play,
To see a lamb at school.

… and asked them to take five minutes or so to think how they would write the story of Little Boy Blue… identify your start point, plan the middle… and how would it end?

I’ll share their extraordinary ideas tomorrow… and look at how to end a story in a satisfying way!

Here’s a link to something I wrote will preparing for the Litfest, about the sleepy shepherd boy:

…and a link to my books, including ‘So You Want to Write’ a guide to writing:


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