The end of a story is much more like the beginning than it's like the middle. Middles have ups and downs, characters coming and going, intermediate crises. But a beginning focuses down from vague, cloudy Everything to a particular Something—a single vivid problem, a situation, a central character. The middle broadens out to create a diverse reality. Then the end brings Everything, all the story's varied motions, down to a particular Something again: a single, crucial action.
Because ends are so like beginnings, many writers deliberately invite readers to compare the two, with similar situations, the same characters involved, perhaps even echoes of dialogue or imagery at both ends of their stories. Or beginning and end may contrast in selected, significant ways while still remaining visibly comparable, related, as I discussed in the last chapter. Beginning and end then touch, connect, form a circle.
With circular strategy, the story becomes visibly one thing, united, a trip away and a return rather than a linear journey ending at a foreign destination unguessed at the start.
Now, I'm not talking about frames here, but the story proper. Frames are like bookends, supporting the story from outside and made of a visibly different substance. With circular stories, the main plot curves back to connect, in significant ways, with the beginning.
Quest-adventure stories usually have this shape. The major character sets out to find or learn or do something, passes through trials along the way, and finally succeeds (or at least survives), often at great personal cost. But that's not the end. Having won through, such characters then return home—in part to be rewarded, but in part to share the benefits of their experience with their family, tribe, or nation, whether those benefits be tangible treasure or intangible insight and wisdom.
That's the shape of many fantasies, which are frequently structured as quest-adventures. Alice, having dismissed the characters of Wonderland as "nothing but a pack of cards," wakes to find herself again at home. Dorothy, having learned that "there's no place like home," returns to Kansas and is reconciled with ordinary life. Although the bulk of The Lord of the Rings chronicles the hobbits' travels to very exotic places indeed, the trilogy ends in Hobbiton, in the same place and among the same characters with which it began.
If your story shows someone going out to grow or change or achieve and then bring that growth, change, or achievement to alter his or her pre-existing everyday life, then it's a circular story. And it needs a solid and appropriate ending to bring things full circle.
Was this article helpful?