Toastmasters offers a variety of ways to grow as a writer. Both the speeches that are given and publication in the monthly Toastmasters’ Magazine has to pull the audience in to your story. It also has to make the audience care from the opening hook to the final sentence.
During BlogHer15 I had the pleasure of listening to Dawn J Fraser, a humorist, storyteller, and national speaker. She also coaches for a little show called The Moth Storytelling and has worked with Ted@NYC. When she begin to talk, I knew I better listen.
Dawn explained that each story has a beat, and that as writers, we have to use story beats to captivate the reader and make them feel a need to take action after our story. As Dawn put it “If your protagonist is the same from the beginning of the story to the end, that story sucks.”
The five beats of a story are as follows:
- The Set-Up
- The Insighting Incident
- Raising of the Stakes
- Climax or “A-Ha! Moment”
Story Beat 1: The Set-Up
The set up is the who or what is the story about. Who are WE in this journey? For me, the set up was early April when I felt chest pains while I was prepping for an ESL class. As a Type A personality who hates to use my time for frivolous things like illness, I powered through until lunch time then asked The Mister to meet me at the local hospital. After a battery of test, the doctors said they saw nothing wrong and sent me home with a prognosis of “lot’s a rest”.
Story Beat 2: The Insighting Incident
THis is where the story goes into motion. Something is happening. For me, it was more chest pain. A week later the pain had increased. Instead of pain in my chest, I now had a pain that wrapped front my chest to my back. My breathing was shallow, it hurt to inhale, and I again, not wanting to use time, I had my daughter quiz my Civics class and then drive me to the hospital for chest pains again. This time I was given a chest x-ray, cat scan, and an overnight stay at the hospital.
Story Beat 3: Raising the Stakes
Also known as the plot thickens. This is the “meat and potatoes” of the story. This is the point where the protagonist wants something, in my case an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan versus reality, dismissive doctors who aren’t willing to listen. This is the battle. Not a Games of Throne Red Wedding fight, but the point where something has got to change. After being poked, prodded, and fed disappointing food, a resident came in, telling me I had gas. This is after being told that scar tissue was on my lungs, there was inflammation around my heart, and I had a high white blood cell count which indicated an infection. I’m a proud member of #TeamChunk. I’m too fat not to know what gas feels like. Fourteen years later, I still remember hopping out of bed, guzzling ginger ale and hot Pepsi to alleviate the heartburn that I had while pregnant with The Boy. I told the resident he was not allowed to touch me, and to the embarrassment of The Mister, demanded that an attending come in to see me. I know my body, and I knew that no matter how many empenadas I ate the day before, my body was fighting stress, not gas.
Story Beat 4: The Climax or “AHA” Moment
I’ve lived with depression since I was 18. I’ve learned how to read the onset of a depressive episode. It either manifests as a faux pas at work, an accident with my car, or physically. I wasn’t gassy, my body was alerting me that I needed to chill out. My husband was replaced by my sister who looked horrified when I took my IV out, popped my telemetry monitors off, and went left. During the ride home, I scheduled a visit with my primary care physician. While convalescing with hours of trash TV, I tried to reign in my anger and frustration. Why would the doctors refuse to listen to me when I explained my symptoms? I wasn’t asking for a note to take the rest of the month off from work. I was’t seeking an opiate to fix a high. Shucks, I have excellent health insurance that I pay for biweekly, so I wasn’t scamming the system. All I wanted was for them to hear what I said and work with me to make the pain go away. Instead, I was met with professionals who wanted to fit me into a neat diagnosis and then go back to updating Twitter (I don’t know if that’s what they were doing, but I sure as hell tweeted out my frustration).
Story Beat 5: Resolution/Conclusion
This is the part of your message, that asks “What did I change?” and “What’s the call of action?” This is also the reflection point of your piece. Did I make a difference? I believe so. I advocated for a proper diagnosis and when I didn’t receive it, went someplace where I was treated with respect. What did I change? That I’ll be hard pressed to return to this hospital DESPITE how close it is to my home and job. What can I do now? Besides warn everyone away from that teaching hospital, I know to keep my medical history on hand for The Mister and my sister in case I am unable to clearly express that I do not want these amateurs to lay a finger on me.
Dawn said that our stories aren’t “meant to tell people what to feel, do, or think. It’s an offering.”
My offering to you: make sure that you always advocate for yourself, no matter what others may think.
Learn more about Dawn by visiting her webpage. She offers coaching, story beats sessions, and more.