The ideal story format?

Way back in high school, I dreaded having to read Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. After all, it was written over 600 years ago! What could that old dude know about life in the 20th century?

But the answer was…a lot! Chaucer knew people well, because he’d been a diplomat who had worked for three kings of England. And he had also been a civil servant, where he had worked with many different kinds of people.

He brought all the skills to his brilliant Canterbury Tales, a group of stories about 30 individuals who take a pilgrimage to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket. To pass the time during the journey, the travellers decide to hold a storytelling contest.

That’s how we readers meet a knight, a merchant, a miller, the wife of Bath, and several others. Each has a story to tell, or a fable, or a legend. During the book, we hear 24 powerful tales about human goals, adventures, and aspirations which are still relevant today.

The secret: How many books, movies, and TV shows can you name that involve a journey, or a quest to pursue a career or goal? Thank you, Mr. Chaucer, for pioneering the brilliant travel story format!

What makes a great first line?

Some people say that the first line of a book, movie, play, essay or e-mail is the most important one.

It sets the tone for the rest of a story. But most important, it magically compels the reader to read the next sentence. And then the next. And then…

I am a “setting” writer. I try to begin every story by describing a scene or a mood. That’s sometimes hard to do, but I believe it’s critical. Let’s look at a few classic first sentences from famous books.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” — 1984 by George Orwell

“I am an invisible man.” — Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Each sentence offers few words, but those words immediately create a picture in our minds. We want that picture to come into better focus, and that’s what makes us continue to read.

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