Do we need beginnings and endings?

Notes from the classroom.

Do we need beginnings and endings?

As well as spending a lot of my day interviewing people and writing about the world, one of the things I really enjoy doing is working one-on-one to coach people with their writing and social media projects.

One of the common topics that comes up during these sessions is - Where do I start? I don’t know how to begin? I can’t figure out the ending?

This can be a real creative block. If you can’t figure out where to start, then you’ll quickly become frustrated at going around in circles and not making any progress on whatever writing project that you’re dreaming of tackling.

If you have a story to tell but you can’t figure out where to start, one technique is to challenge some of your underlying assumptions. Is this really a linear narrative? Is there really a beginning and an end? How does this story fit within the wider context of the world? Why does time define this story?

To help get your head around these questions, I’d recommend watching the film Arrival.

Released in 2016, this is a science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. It’s based on the novel Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang.

Arrival, Movie Poster.jpg

The film opens with this narrated line from the character played by Amy Adams:

“I used to think this was the beginning of your story. Memory is a strange thing. It doesn't work like I thought it did. We are so bound by time, by its order.”

You probably need to watch the movie to understand what she’s talking about, but one of the key take-outs is that when you’re telling a story, you don’t need to feel constricted by perceptions of time or the restrictions of a linear narrative.

Here’s a practical way in which you could apply this.

If your writing project is a story about the murder of a man. Where does your story start? Does it start with the act of violence? Does it start with what the victim did earlier that day? Does it start with what the murderer did earlier that day? Does it start with some seemingly unrelated event? You have infinite possibilities, all of which are valid, all of which are part of that story.

In the final version of the story that you publish and that you want people to read, you won’t include all of those infinite possibilities, you’ll have edited and distilled your story so it has maximum connection with your audience. It’s helpful for you to be conscious of what you’ve left out, but all of these infinite possibilities for your story also give you numerous writing prompts.

If you began by thinking that you’ll begin the narrative of story at Point A, but you’re struggling to make that work. Put that to one side and try beginning the narrative from Point B. You might come back to Point A and figure out a way to make it work, but tackling the narrative from different perspectives is helping you to flesh out your understanding of this story, it’s moving your writing forward, it’s giving your writing depth. You’re looking at the whole picture, not just an arbitrary beginning and end.

If you’ve got a writing project that you’d like some assistance with, or if you’d like some help with your social media, or if you’d just like to brainstorm some ideas sometime, I’d be happy to help.

Get in touch, join me for one of my London classes, or stay tuned for more hints and tips.

Follow Gareth Johnson on Twitter


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