Return with Us to the Thrilling Days of a Galaxy Far Far Away

I'll ask you now to flip back to Chapter 5, near the end, where I did a bit of commentary on the structure of The Empire Strikes Back.. Reread that section, then meet me back here. OK? You're back?

There, I was talking about parallel plots, and how they can be held together with echoing incidents. Now, the focus is on the incidents themselves.

A threat of freezing, in the beginning of that story, mirrors a threat of freezing at the end. A cave in one of the parallel plot lines is mirrored by a cave in the other. A meeting with an old friend or with a terrible adversary, a buried truth finally spoken and acknowledged (Leia: "I love you" and Han: "I know" the counterpart of Darth Vader's disclosure of paternity)—each has its match, its echo. And there are even more connections than I have space to list. And that was a movie for the widest possible audience, aimed primarily at teenagers, for heaven's sake—not a story built with the intricate craft possible in literary fiction, for a readership of discerning adults.

Yet look at the number of connections there, if you stand back from the story a little and take the time to notice them. Look at how thoroughly all the threads are gathered into neat knots, how thoroughly the story belongs to itself.

Lots of fiction uses that kind of internal riveting. If you stop thinking in terms of things and start thinking in categories of things, you'll see more resemblances, echoes, and outright repetitions in your favorite fiction than you'd ever have suspected. Start thinking categories rather than individual, isolated pieces, and the family resemblances start showing up—an author's characteristic concerns, the larger elements of style that connect diverse fictions as the works of a single guiding consciousness.

That's what you need to start doing with your own fiction. Start noticing the patterns your initial scenes and set-pieces have set up and think of ways to echo and reinforce them in other scenes, later on.

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