Nancy: An Oldie But (Hopefully) a Goodie

Because my day job is in a high-stress, deadline-driven field, I have a tendency to have weeks at a time when I don’t have time to write, or sleep (much), or blog. The past several weeks have been just this kind of time, and adding to that, we had Puppy (real name Pepper) to foster for 10 days.

Puppy, aka Pepper, channeling beagle patron saint Snoopy.

Puppy, aka Pepper, channeling beagle patron saint Snoopy.

Here is a picture of Puppy and me saying goodbye the day she was going back to her owners. (The smile was for the camera; we were ridiculously weepy to say our final farewell to her). But there’s still another week of crazy before I can get back to some semblance of a normal writer’s life (ha!), so today I’m going to cheat a bit by sharing one of my favorite blast-from-the-past posts, written in 2013 before the 8 Ladies told anyone outside their immediate families and closest writer friends that we were embarking on this blogging adventure together. It combines two of my favorite topics: writing and the Beatles! What’s not to love? So until next week, I’m going to carry that weight down the long and winding road while I leave you with some food for thought, Fab Four style.

And in the End…

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.

Nancy's Vinyl Beatles Collection

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 book-ending 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?

3 thoughts on “Nancy: An Oldie But (Hopefully) a Goodie

  1. I’ve been a Beatles fan since I saw them on Ed Sullivan in 1964. I’ve always had a tendency to “bookend” my writing, even essays. An early reader of my blog commented that my posts tended to “come back around” at the end. So having Jenny explain to us why that works so well, and to give us a structure for it in a novel, felt really comfortable.

    Just started work on the new book and I’m thinking it may be a good idea to write the last scene so that I have both slices of bread before I start piling on the bologna.

  2. I have a super-short term memory, so I often don’t consciously remember if the ending is congruent with the beginning. But, I do think it is a good idea if it happens that way.

    I think the Hero’s Journey is supposed to end back at the beginning, but with riches and prizes galore. I’ve heard it said that the Heroine’s journey, though, doesn’t return home, but continues out and out and out. The wandering son goes out, sows his oats, learns some lessons then comes home to inherit. The daughter, though, is often sent out to marry into another family, and she only returns to visit (or in disgrace). (-: Of course, that’s a very old-fashioned way of looking at things. These days in the US, nobody wants the kids to come home permanently. “Living in your mother’s basement” is a pejorative.

    But still, to come back to where the trouble began, this time with the keys to solve the trouble, is a very satisfying structure!

  3. The idea of making sure your first and last scenes echo each other makes a lot of sense to me. When I was working on The Traitor, I started writing the end scene and then went back to write the beginning. It made sense to me that I needed to know where I wanted to end up before I started heading that way. As the book developed, I wound up adding elements to both of those scenes so that they were a much better reflection of each other. This is a good thing for me to remember as I start working on my new story.

    p.s. Will I be drummed out of the Eight Ladies if I admit that I’m not much of a Beatles fan? I took a quiz just yesterday – “Which Beatles songs can you name from the first lines” and only got 9 out of 12. 🙂

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