I’ve often said that you can’t write a first scene until you’ve written the last scene, at least not a final write. You have to know where you’re going to know where to start from, know what happens in the final scene to introduce it in the first scene. So now that I’ve written the final scene (not finished the book, I just wrote that scene), I can go back to the first scene and do some of the massive cutting and shaping it needs. I’m looking at it in several ways, but the one that’s most crucial, I think, is seeing how it bookends..
Bookending just means making making the climax fulfill the promise of the beginning scene in both content and structure. No, this is not a rule, it’s just a way to look at your beginning and your ending and make sure you didn’t start out heading for Maine and end up in Texas.
One of the keys to bookending is balance. In my first scene rewrite, there’s now a lot more emphasis on how wrong everything is in Nita’s mind, stating her goal to eradicate the wrongness on the island, and in the last scene, she faces down the antagonist and says, “You’re the source of all the wrong,” and ends it. Put another way, if the first scene is turning the screw to tighten the intensity and focus of the story in which the protagonist’s stable life is made unstable, the last scene unscrews the intensity so the protagonist can return to a stable state.
Another key is structure. At the beginning of the first scene, Nita tries to get out of the car three times and Button stops her. At one point in the climax, Nita blows past three people who want to stop her in Hell. That sequence in the climax is a fraction of the length of the same sequence in the first scene, but it’s still an echo of that beginning. Do I expect that people will actually remember a three-peat from four hundred pages earlier? Consciously, no, but a reader’s subconscious is an amazing thing, and dotting i’s she doesn’t remember reading means she won’t be left with any vague loose ends to the story.
• And a big key is parallelism. At the end of the first scene, Nita tells Button to leave and get a new partner, and Button surprises her by saying no, beginning the partnership. At the climax, Nita says good-bye to Nick,, who’s now the Devil, on the assumption that she’ll be leaving Hell by herself, and Nick surprises her by saying no, foreshadowing a new partnership.
So here’s balance, structure, and parallelism in a chart I did while I was figuring out how to bookend this (you knew there’d be a chart).
SOME SPOILERS BELOW:
That’s not how the climax actually works. E happens in a previous scene, and D and C never happen, but the chart showed me how to structure the end, (I’m not sure that the first scene wouldn’t be better if I cut C & D there, too, but there’s a lot of set-up I have to get through in that scene that’s completely unnecessary in the climax, so for now, I’m just cutting those pieces way back.)
Or to make it even simpler:
And now back to writing.