I just finished reading the second in the three-volume series of Ransom Riggs’ “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.” Riggs came across some vintage photographs of children and was struck by the peculiarities of expression, bodies, dress, or poses. He collected more of the same style of photos and eventually developed a storyline based totally on the photos and the peculiarities they showed.
After personally handling and viewing 100,000 photos, he wrote the first volume, using a photo to introduce each character, setting, and situation. The result is not only a fascinating story liberally illustrated with vintage photos but a book that was on the New York Times best sellers list for nearly a year and sold 2 million copies.
Beginnings and endings are the most important parts of our stories, besides the middles! Each part is essential. Take a look at I Corinthians 12:21ff, “. . . the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ ” Our stories would be incomplete without the necessary parts, just as our bodies and the church are incomplete without each part.
The thing about beginnings is that they set the stage in so many ways. First lines or paragraphs are responsible to introduce character, setting, mood, and possibly even the story question.
Ever read a mystery that left you flabbergasted? The murderer was not the suspect you had in mind. How did that happen? There wasn’t a clue—or at least not one you figured out. So how did the writer pull it off? Quite possibly they were surprised too.
Building a Sandwich
You may be familiar with the good old sandwich analogy. Take two pieces of bread—the beginning of the story and the ending—and layer the rest of the ingredients in between. This is the basic three act structure that fits almost every kind of fiction, no matter if it’s a play, a short story, or even a full length novel. Put simply, every story must have three basic parts: the problem; the problem gets worse; the problem gets solved. While the middle usually makes up the bulk of the “sandwich,” the “meat” if you will, the choice of bread on either side can make or break the story. A weak beginning and readers may not continue reading. A weak ending and they will be left feeling unsatisfied and probably won’t be back for more.
“Imagine for a moment that one of your favorite female Bible characters were to somehow travel through time to the modern day. What would Esther, or Ruth, or Mary Magdalene think as they stared, amazed, at our lives?” (opening of Chapter 1 of The Life Ready Woman: Thinking in a Do-It-All World by Shaunti Feldhahn and Robert Lewis)
“It was a scary year when I sat down to write this. The toughest I’d been through by far. My place in the world never seemed so uncertain.” (opening of the Introduction of My Life A.S. Is: An Inside Look at Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome by Benjamin Collier)
“This is the story of a family living on a farm that once belonged to my grandparents. It is about the individuals, the personalities and the ties that bind us to each other, in love and in faith, within a community of extended family, neighbours and friends.” (opening of Chapter 1 of Once Upon a Sandbox by Carolyn Wilker)