Bookend Scenes: Bringing Your Story Full Circle

Bookend scenes are a fabulous technique you can use to show how your character has grown over the course of the book. In the opening chapters, you write a scene that your character experiences as the story opens, and then at the end you put him in a similar scene and show the reader, by his new reaction to that same set of circumstances, how much he’s grown and changed.

A perfect example of this is in An Officer and a Gentleman. Zach (Richard Gere) meets Sgt. Foley (Lou Gossett). Sgt. Foley is berating Zach as all good drill sergeants do. Zach hates and resents the sergeant, and has a ton of attitude about being told what to do.

Do you remember what happens at the end of the movie? Zach zooms up on his motorcycle after graduation in his dress whites, and he listens to the drill sergeant harass a whole new group of recruits. The drill sergeant uses exactly the same words to berate another kid that he used on Zach only twelve weeks before. Zach smiles, then turns around and drives away.

We see Zach’s two reactions to the drill sergeant, separated by twelve weeks of character growth. Suddenly this man is not the enemy to him, but a friend, a mentor, the very reason he was able to become an officer.

Another example of a great bookend scene is in Heaven, Texas by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. At the start of the book, the hero, Bobby Tom Denton, has a tradition of giving any woman who wants to marry him a football quiz. He asks them questions that no one could possibly answer, then acts terribly disappointed when they can’t answer them. But then he gets to stay a bachelor forever, which is what he thinks he wants.

At the end of the book, everyone is insisting that he give the heroine, Gracie, the football quiz before he marries her, because that was the standard he set. She knows nothing about football. He asks her five questions, things like, “What does NFL stand for?” and “What’s the name of that big championship game at the end of the year?”

For the last question, he asks her what New York City team Joe Namath played for. She tells him the New York Yankees, which is, of course, a baseball team. Everybody laughs. He turns and glares at them, then turns back to Gracie with a great big smile and says, “Exactly right, sweetheart. I had no idea you knew so much about football.” And the last line of the book is, “And that was how every last person in Telarosa, Texas¬† came to understand that Bobby Tom Denton had finally and forever fallen head over heels in love.”

Even if you don’t have an identical scene in both the beginning and the end of your book, you can include identical elements that characters now react to differently, or even have them say identical lines. The difference is that now they have much more meaning than before. Readers love coming full circle, and you can use bookend scenes to make it happen.

Copyright © 2013 Jane Graves. All rights reserved.

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