Most people who know me in the non-internet world, and a few who know me via the internet as well, know I am a HUGE Beatles fan. I am not of the Beatles’ generation or the time period of their music, but I love their work, their persona, and their lore with the intensity of a thousand suns. So imagine my pure joy when, last week, I came across a local radio station playing the original Beatles collection (albums released while they were still together as a group) on vinyl. And in listening to the beginning and end of this day-long broadcast (with the inconsiderate interruption of the day job in between), I got to thinking about story beginnings and endings.
Hearing the Beatles’ earliest recorded album, Please Please Me, as I drove to work, and then hearing their last recorded album, Abbey Road, after I arrived home that night, made me realize how much that last album took the band back to its roots. In the beginning, they used straight-forward instrumentation and orchestration, coupled with tight harmonies and what sounded in their voices like genuine enthusiasm. In the intervening years, they went through all sorts of sound experimentation, heavy production, and complex sound layering techniques that helped solidify them as one of the most important pop music groups in history, and helped pop music ‘grow up’ in musical terms in a few short years. They also became notoriously estranged, personally and professionally. For many fans from both that and future generations, Abbey Road felt like coming home. From song titles like Come Together and Here Comes the Sun, to the amazing harmonies in Because and the beauty of the song cycle that culminates in the appropriately titled track The End, the band seemed more like its original self than it had in years.
The point of all this as it relates to writing – see, I did have a writerly point, after all! – is that the endings that bring us the most satisfaction are often the ones that resonate and echo with, while at the same time contrasting with, the beginning. In other words, if readers read the first and last scenes of your story back to back, they should see similarities, albeit with important differences. The differences should be the result of the way the story events have changed your characters. One of the reasons I have become less enthusiastic about reading prologues and epilogues is because they tend to destroy the satisfaction a reader feels upon finding that resonance between the beginning and the end.
As I was pondering these thoughts, those of us in the McDaniel workshop got an assignment from Jenny: summarize the first and last scenes of our stories to identify the similarities and differences, and to see whether we have created that resonance in our stories. In my case, the scenes bookending my story take place in The Thirsty Horse Saloon. All three of my protagonists are there in the end, just as they were in the beginning. But instead of being strangers, the three are now friends. And instead of looking for ways to run from the impending doom descending on each of their lives, they have each found, if not the solution they’d hoped to get, at least a resolution that works for them. Echoes of the beginning found in the ending, but with shades of difference. Resonance and echoes, contrast and change.
Now, tying back to the beginning of my post and that all-day Beatles fest, it’s not that I can’t listen to my own Beatles albums any time I want. That image at the beginning of the post is my vinyl collection of their music (less a few albums that are at my husband’s office where, audiophile that he is, he has a turntable). I also have the box set of re-mastered CDs, all three anthology collections, various and sundry ‘one-off’ releases, and all of my CDs converted to MP3 and downloaded to my iPod. But the joy of that broadcast for me was that somewhere out there, others who love the Beatles (almost) as much as I do were taking the time to celebrate their remarkable contribution to pop music history. And they did it in the way the Beatles created that history, starting at the beginning, taking us through the ups and downs of the ‘messy middle’ (aka life), and arriving at the end of the band’s collaboration, which in a case of life imitating art, brought things so nicely full circle for the fans.
Do your favorite books/most satisfying reads have resonance between the first and last scenes? And
more importantly just as importantly, are there any Beatles fans out there? If so, are you a vinyl junkie, a CD enthusiast, or (like me) a ‘get them any way I can’ kind of fan?