35. Begin in the Middle


He huffed and he puffed…

YOUR STORY NEEDS an remarkable opening and matching close, but those parts are next to impossible to write first. Instead, start in the middle.

Or more specifically, craft the whole story from beginning through middle to end, but don’t fret over the opening yet. Just start telling your story. Quite often the best opening is later found a minute or two into the story. Sometimes it is found hiding at the end.

For Herve, to craft the next draft we sat down and talked about why he started his company. We started with his childhood. His home life. The realities of growing up in genocidal Rwanda. We talked about whether he wanted to bring up those times, or talk about Rwanda in the 2010’s. We talked about his customers. Who they are? Why they buy his sausages. We talked about his employees and about the competition. In short, we talked about the entire company, searching to the edges of the potential story looking for interesting characters and unique pieces to highlight.

In Herve’s case, he has two intertwined businesses and the more interesting story was in his second business, Livestock Bank. He rarely spoke of that business, thinking it only as part of the Paniel Meat Processing solution. Once I heard him speak of both, it was clear to me that the story should begin with Livestock Bank, despite it being half the age of the meat processor.

Storycrafting is like that. You can’t predict ahead of time what will work. For Herve, what seemed the right story was to focus on him as the main character, sticking with his adult life, ignoring the past societal issues of Rwanda, looking solely to the future.

The next draft still resembles an essay, but starts to sound more like a story:

Many people know the story of my country. But that is not the only story. There is another story to tell.

Hello, my name is Herve Tuyishime. I am from Rwanda in East Africa. I am a college graduate living in Kigali, the capital city where I own a meat processing plant. I’ve never been a farmer nor ever dreamed of being a farmer, but two years ago I started a business raising livestock which today owns 300 pigs.

Not all in one farm. 300 pigs across 300 farms run by 300 different farmers. This distribution model is on purpose. It is a, Livestock Bank, which aims to share animal with farmers and to provide everything they need to raise livestock in quality and quantity. This is a model that works well in a country like Rwanda where most farmers cannot afford to raise animals, where there is not enough land for everyone who wants to farm, and where these farmers have no easy access to sell livestock in Kigali and other cities if they were raising their own flock. The Livestock Bank takes care of sales for them too, providing a sustainable source of income.

Go back and compare this to the snippets of essay in the last chapter. This story has progressed from facts and problems to a solution at the end of the second paragraph. It is starting to sound like a story.

Note further that the solution isn’t simply spelled out with yet-more facts, but unrolled slowly and carefully in an attempt to get the audience to wonder what comes next. 300 pigs across 300 farms run by 300 farmers. How does that work? That is the question in the minds of the audience after that sentence is spoken. That is the “hook” that sucks them into the story, that make them want to hear more. The story continues:

Livestock Bank also provides a sustainable and steady source of high quality meat to my other business, Paniel Meat Processing. I started this business 4 years ago when I noticed Rwanda’s economy growing quickly and anticipated that the consumption of meat would rise.

Paniel Meat Processing produces products such as sausages, burgers, and meatballs. Today we are selling these in five cities: Kigali, Rubavu, Huye, Musanze, and Rusizi. All of these are urban centers. Our goal is to expand into rural areas, and produce meat products affordable to the millions of people earning less than $1 per day.

You probably don’t have two companies to pitch at once, but these two separate companies’ stories are as closely tied together. Thus this isn’t very different from the challenge of pitching a marketplace business with two distinct sets of customers, or pitching a company that sells two interrelated products.

For Paniel Meat Processing, note how the story is told backwards. We are told what it does and where it does it before we are told of the problem it is trying to solve. Interesting stories are like that, they often break the expected patterns.

The last part of this draft tries (but fails) to tie these two parts together to make an ask of the audience:

To achieve this we need Livestock Bank to grow. Not only to supply Paniel Meat Processing with enough meat in quality and quantity for its growing urban market but also to increase the farmers’ incomes so that they can afford to buy the new lost-cost products. We hope to expand from the 300 farmers we are partnering with today, adding 1,000 farmers every year.

If you are interested in making that happen, please talk to me.

Like the opening, don’t fret yet over the closing. When you find your opening, the best closing is often either an exact copy of those words or a variation on that theme.


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