Imagine you pick up a new novel, turn to the first page, and this is what you read: (male speaker: The day dawned clear and bright, the sun was shining, and the sky was a vivid blue. Tommy awoke and lay still for a moment. Morning was his favorite time of day, and he liked to savor it. At last, he got up and went to the window and pulled the shade. He saw kids walking to school with their big sneakers and their heavy backpacks. He saw a few energized souls riding their bikes to work, their messenger bags slung across their backs.

Imagine you pick up a new novel, turn to the first page, and this is what you read: (male speaker: The day dawned clear and bright, the sun was shining, and the sky was a vivid blue. Tommy awoke and lay still for a moment. Morning was his favorite time of day, and he liked to savor it. At last, he got up and went to the window and pulled the shade. He saw kids walking to school with their big sneakers and their heavy backpacks. He saw a few energized souls riding their bikes to work, their messenger bags slung across their backs.

Remembering the presentation he was scheduled to give at the morning meeting, he yawned, turned from the window, and started dressing for work.) It's not a terribly engaging story. Let's see if we can figure out why by asking whether this paragraph answers the three questions readers will have. Whose story is it? Tommy's, so far so good, but is it a story yet? What's happening? Tommy's getting up and going about his day, pretty much like we all do, which brings us to the key question, what's at stake? Absolutely nothing, there's nothing out of the ordinary here.

We have no idea what the story will be about, which means there's nothing for readers to anticipate and nothing for them to read forward to find out. No curiosity, no rush of dopamine, no reader. Let's see if we can make Tommy's story and his day just a wee bit more intriguing. (male speaker: On Tuesday Tommy woke up knowing that by noon his fate would be decided. He was either going to convince Anne that he was worth hiring as a junior graphic designer or he was going to have to move back to his parents' house in Bethesda and become just another graduate who couldn't get a job.

He was sure that the presentation he prepared was slick. He'd shot a video, designed an animated logo, recorded music, but as he put on his best suit and tie--okay, it was his only suit and tie-- the image of his childhood bedroom crept into his mind. His baseball card collection and dusty shoeboxes under his bed, the poster of Radiohead on the wall, the old electric guitar still in its stand, and his little sister standing in the doorway telling him he was a loser. That bedroom was a graveyard of dead dreams.

If he had to go back now, how would he ever get out?) Now let's see what we have. Whose story is it? Still Tommy's. What's happening? Tommy is about to make the presentation of his young life, something that clearly means a lot to him. What's at stake? His job, his home, and most importantly, his sense of self. So is this the beginning of the story? You bet. In this version we not only have a sense of who Tommy is, but of the problem he's facing and what it means to him.

As important, we're beginning to care about Tommy, at least enough to read on to find out what happens when Anne sees his presentation. A presentation we can't help suspecting might not be quite as successful as he hopes it will be. This opening paragraph has done its job. It's given us a glimpse of what the overarching story will be about, and it stands a good chance of piquing the reader's curiosity.

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This video is part of

Writing Fundamentals: The Craft of Story

39 video lessons · 20530 viewers

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1. Introduction

2m 40s
1. Welcome
1m 45s
2. How to use this course
55s
2. 1. What Is a Story?

9m 38s
1. Explanation (What is a story?)
3m 34s
2. Example (What is a story?)
4m 14s
3. Story check (What is a story?)
1m 50s

8m 46s
3m 51s
3m 19s
1m 36s
4. 3. All Stories Make a Point

8m 51s
1. Explanation (All stories make a point)
2m 56s
2. Example (All stories make a point)
3m 54s
3. Story check (All stories make a point)
2m 1s
5. 4. Feeling What the Protagonist Feels

9m 33s
1. Explanation (Feeling what the protagonist feels)
3m 43s
2. Example (Feeling what the protagonist feels)
3m 19s
3. Story check (Feeling what the protagonist feels)
2m 31s
6. 5. All Protagonists Have a Goal

7m 6s
1. Explanation (All protagonists have a goal)
2m 36s
2. Example (All protagonists have a goal)
3m 9s
3. Story check (All protagonists have a goal)
1m 21s
7. 6. Uncovering Your Protagonist's Inner Issue

7m 37s
1. Explanation (Uncovering your protagonist's inner issue)
2m 53s
2. Example (Uncovering your protagonist's inner issue)
2m 27s
3. Story check (Uncovering your protagonist's inner issue)
2m 17s
8. 7. Being Specific Rather than Vague

9m 58s
1. Explanation (Being specific rather than vague)
4m 51s
2. Example (Being specific rather than vague)
3m 33s
3. Story check (Being specific rather than vague)
1m 34s
9. 8. Suspense and Conflict

9m 3s
1. Explanation (Suspense and conflict)
3m 29s
2. Example (Suspense and conflict)
4m 6s
3. Story check (Suspense and conflict)
1m 28s
10. 9. Cause and Effect

10m 35s
1. Explanation (Cause and effect)
4m 0s
2. Example (Cause and effect)
4m 16s
3. Story check (Cause and effect)
2m 19s
11. 10. What Can Go Wrong, Must

11m 50s
1. Explanation (What can go wrong, must)
4m 42s
2. Example (What can go wrong, must)
5m 0s
3. Story check (What can go wrong, must)
2m 8s
12. 11. Setups, Payoffs, and the Clues in Between

10m 59s
1. Explanation (Setups, payoffs, and the clues in between)
4m 19s
2. Example (Setups, payoffs, and the clues in between)
5m 6s
3. Story check (Setups, payoffs, and the clues in between)
1m 34s
13. 12. Flashbacks, Subplots, and Foreshadowing

11m 7s
1. Explanation (Flashbacks, subplots, and foreshadowing)
4m 56s
2. Example (Flashbacks, subplots, and foreshadowing)
4m 20s
3. Story check (Flashbacks, subplots, and foreshadowing)
1m 51s
14. Conclusion

1m 49s
1. Next steps
1m 49s

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