Posted On September 20, 2017 by Print This Post

Hug Your Story with Bookends by Kris Bock

Please welcome new RU Contributor, Kris Bock!

I’ve written guest posts for RU twice before – “Size Matters: Tips for Enlarging Your Manuscript” in March 2014, and “Before You Climax,” on the crisis point or moment of failure before the story climax in July 2015. Now the fabulous ladies at RU are giving me the chance to try a spot as a regular contributor! I’m afraid I can’t come up with good puns for every title (assuming, of course, you believe there is such a thing as a good pun). Still, I’m looking forward to sharing some of the things I’ve learned in my long journey as a writer, first as Chris Eboch, children’s book writer, and then as romantic suspense author Kris Bock.

What Is a Bookend?

You can find tons of advice on writing gripping beginnings. Plenty of other articles talk about creating satisfying endings. The bookend concept can help tie your finale to your opening. It uses two similar scenes to start and end the novel, creating an echo.

Your story arc and character arc may naturally fit this circular pattern. Perhaps the book opens with your hero leaving on a journey, and at the end he returns home. Or the book opens with your heroine returning to the home she left long ago, feeling like an outsider and not planning to stay. At the end, she decides to stay and build her new life there.

Maybe your heroine starts by struggling with some physical task, like riding horses again after an accident. At the end of the novel she succeeds in this goal.

In a “enemies to lovers” story you might start with the couple arguing, and at the end they’re snuggling.

When the final setting or situation is similar to the opening, the scenes create “bookends” to the middle. This makes for a satisfying pattern. As a bonus, it also helps ensure that the story is tied together and hasn’t wandered off on tangents. It can even help you figure out where to end, so you don’t stop too early or drag on too long.

The trick is to make the ending similar enough to the beginning. Can you put the characters in the same setting? Can they be doing a similar activity? Can you even echo the opening dialogue?

An Echo, Not a Copy

While the ending echoes the beginning, it shouldn’t duplicate it. A story requires change. Quite likely, a problem has been solved. Hopefully, the main character has grown. The traveler returns with a new appreciation for his home. The woman who doubted she could ever ride again wins a rodeo competition. The “enemies” acknowledge they actually love each other. The angsty hero who vows never to love again recognizes that love is worth the risk. The situation may have changed, but that’s not the most important part of the story. What’s really important is that the characters have changed. They have come to new realizations about themselves, their partners, and/or the initial situation.

Bookend scenes may illustrate these changes by using a scene or language similar to, but slightly different from, the opening. If you open with the heroine’s riding accident, try to close with her back in the same location, demonstrating her recovery. If you open with the enemies facing off over a boardroom table, end with them presiding over the table together. Try making the circumstances as similar as possible – the same location, the same other characters present, maybe even the same weather. You can also experiment with using similar language.

On the other hand, you can alter some details to show the change. The heroine returns to her childhood home on a rainy, miserable winter day. You might end on a beautiful summer day so she can fully appreciate how much she loves where she is. You’d think this might be too obvious, but done well, it helps the reader have the same emotional reactions as the character.

Think about what details to change in order to show how the characters have changed. The same external situation, but tackled with new confidence? A harsh argument turned to affectionate teasing? “I’ll never love again” changed to “I’ll never let you go”?

Show Don’t Tell the Change

Using bookend scenes is one form of showing rather than telling. The reader can see how things have changed, and whether or not the change has satisfied the main characters. You don’t need to tell the reader that the enemies are now lovers, because you show it. You don’t need to tell the reader that love can conquer fear, because they see it in the characters’ behavior. The change suggests the theme, so you don’t need to explicitly point out the lesson learned.

Bookends aren’t necessary for every story, and in some cases they may not work at all, so don’t force it. But by thinking about bookends, you may find a natural ending point for your story. Don’t end too early, before you’ve had a chance to echo the beginning. And don’t go on too long, traveling past the natural bookend. With bookends, you can illustrate the change in the character or situation subtly but clearly, while using a circular pattern that satisfies some innate understanding of storytelling.

Think of your work in progress. Can you see a way that bookend scenes might work? Why or why not?

***

Bio: Kris Bock writes novels of suspense and romance with outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. The Mad Monk’s Treasure, “Smart romance with an ‘Indiana Jones’ feel,” is currently free at all e-book retailers. Whispers in the Dark features archaeology and intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. What We Found is a mystery with strong romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. In Counterfeits, stolen Rembrandt paintings bring danger to a small New Mexico town. Read excerpts at www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon pageSign up for the Kris Bock newsletter for announcements of new books, sales, and more.

Kris writes for children under the name Chris Eboch. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at her website or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

 

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5 Responses to “Hug Your Story with Bookends by Kris Bock”

  1. Hi Kris,

    I need to know how the story ends before I start to write and that includes the characters’ GMC. It’s kind of a mental game on how to get from here to there. Stories with rushed endings (i.e. the MC abruptly decides in the last ten pages that he/she wants ‘X’) make me nuts.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | September 20, 2017, 1:41 pm
  2. Thanks so much for this post – and welcome to RU! I love the whole concept of echoing. One of my favorite books – THE IVY TREE by Mary Stewart – does a brilliant job of echoing. I always feel that the ending is more satisfying if I recognize echoing is taking place.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | September 20, 2017, 8:06 pm
  3. I vaguely “knew” about this technique, but didn’t know its name. Thanks for the specific tips on ways to apply it to the beginning and end of story (Put the characters in the same setting, doing a similar activity, or echo the opening dialogue). Thanks!

    Posted by Ginger Monette | September 21, 2017, 7:14 am
  4. Welcome Kris,

    This is how I have started my last two. It doesn’t mean it will work when the finished product is displayed but for the moment it does. It’s as if the old character is speaking to the new character and waving them forward. Good stuff! Thanks!!!!

    Posted by Bryan Fagan | September 21, 2017, 8:05 am
  5. Thanks for commenting! I love The Ivy Tree (and all of Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels). Great example.

    Great point about knowing your characters Goal/Motivation/Conflict. That also helps tie everything together. Not every writer knows the ending at the beginning, but at some point during revisions, the start and the end should connect – with or without a specific echoing scene, but clearly and logically.

    Posted by Kris Bock | September 21, 2017, 9:29 pm

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