Here is Part 2 of a Series of Tips on Using Anecdotes to Lend Power and Authenticity to Your Writing
Use Anecdotes to Start at the Middle So You Can End at the Beginning: A Simple Device to Make You Story Feel Complete and Compelling
“Starting in the middle” means begin your piece with action, something relevant and attention-grabbing. You won’t always be able to invoke this strategy, but it works more often than you might expect. An anecdote galvanizes interest, drives the reader to the next point, and reinforces the main idea.
Crime novelist Lawrence Block, who is also a renowned teacher of writing, is an advocate of this principle. He once recounted a problem he had with a book he was writing: It seemed tedious when the central character recounted the motivations for the murder, the plotting, and the eventual disposal of the body – not an easy task in New York City. The murderer was strong and the victim small, so he rolled the body up in a carpet and carried it on his shoulder on the subway. But all that planning and plotting was a snooze.
The solution: Start the book with a guy on the subway carrying a body wrapped in a carpet.
Really, how could you NOT turn the next page after that opening? Moral: Start in the middle if you reasonably can. Draw the reader in.
And when possible, end at the beginning. This simply means circle back to your opening statement or story. Some sort of reference back to the beginning serves as sort of “I told you so,” and also makes the piece seem spherical and complete.
For example, let’s say you’re writing an article about a business manager who decided to quit his corporate job pursue his dream and go to medical school.
Start the story in the middle, with some action that tells the story:
When Bob Hastings, the head of a seven-person accounting department, was told he’d have to lay some people off, he decided that he wanted to help people, not hurt them, so he fired himself.
Then summarize the main idea:
Hastings, 33 at the time, joined a growing trend of mid-career workers who enter medical school older but wiser than their fellow students….
Then tell the whole story however you’d like, using more anecdotes, examples, and quotes, following your outline. To give the story some punch, and make it seem complete, end at the beginning:
When Hastings graduated last year, he didn’t expect to see anyone at the ceremony. He had no spouse or nearby family. But he was astounded to see that waiting to shake his hand were all seven members of his old department – the people he’d refused to fire.
Not all written works will adapt themselves to this type of circular ending, of course, but you’d be surprised how many will if you pay attention and look for the right material.