The circular ending is a kind of before/after, then/now contrast. Since beginning and end are comparable but not quite identical, there are clear opportunities for mirroring, for running a kind of experiment with a particular variable, as discussed in Chapter 8. Circular strategy offers possibilities for irony and satire—the disproportion between the way things are and the way they either ought to be or the way we wish they were—because the reader is encouraged to compare the before and the after. The contrast, bitter or sweet, is plain to see.
Establishing the new norm, the way things are going to be from here on, needn't mean coming home in a strictly literal sense. As all of us know who have changed houses, cities, and even states more than once in our lifetimes, "home" is a state of mind. It's where you live, what means "home" to you. Similarly, if the mood, meaning, and emotional dynamic of two places or situations are the same, in some sense they're subjectively the same place, the same situation. They're experienced more or less the same, even if the addresses are different. "Coming home," in a circular story,just means returning to a place, mood, or situation that's related in clear, meaningful ways to counterparts in the story's beginning.
Circular stories tend to end quietly, in repose. If there's a slam-bang action scene, it's not at the story's absolute end—rather it's the scene immediately before the end. It provides the crisis, the change, that makes the new norm possible.
Setting up a clear contrast (before/after, then/now) highlights the variable, the thing that's changed, the story's turning point. That's the pattern in A Christmas Carol, highlighting Scrooge's change of heart brought about by his experiences among the spirits. That's also the pattern in Richard Adams' Wa-tership Down. After the defeat of the invading army of rabbits, the story doesn't end. It goes past, into peace, into the "new norm" which Hazel's good leadership, Fiver's visions, and Bigwig's bravery have made possible. The ending, showing life in a contented rabbit community where visions are respected and the weak protected, is contrasted implicitly with the opening, which showed a warren where visions were ignored and ridiculed, and the weak were bullied. We see what Hazel and his followers have achieved. The story is circular, even ending at the same season of the year in which it began.
If you want the quiet strength which a circular story can lend, build in mirrors as strongly as you can. Build in circular and recurring things: seasons turning and returning, day opening and dropping into twilight, holidays or other special events that faithfully recur. Show that the beginning and the end belong to one another, and show that without the middle, nothing would have changed—that the middle, up to final crisis, was a turning point.
A circular story is all one motion. If beginning and end aren't strongly tied, the result will be inconclusive, unsatisfactory, a letdown, however interesting in itself. It's not by itself: it has the whole weight of the story resting on it, and must reflect the coming to a dynamic stability of all the major forces that produced it, now in repose. It's notjust the final scene: it's the culmination of the whole story—beginning and middle—and should reflect that entire progression.
If beginning and end are tied but there's no turning point in the middle, your story will, in retrospect, seem to have been a great deal of fuss about not much of anything—a longjourney to get no place in particular. Although Dorothy may start from and return to dull, commonplace Kansas, in between, she's been to Oz. Make sure your story has been somewhere worth the read-er'sjourney too, and that the end isn'tjust a replay of the beginning but is changed by what's happened in the meantime.
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