A Narrative Balancing Act

Some stories advance by plot or character or both. Certainly, the character of James Bond doesn’t grow because spy thrillers are plot driven.

Sometimes a character gets swept up by outside events, goes through a traumatic adventure, and then tries to regain the solace and peacefulness of their former life. The film The Outlaw Josey Wales (which is a loose re-telling of Candide by Voltaire) directed by and starring Clint Eastwood would be an example of such a narrative device.


There’s More Than One Way To Balance

Reversals create a balancing as well. In The Natural, Roy Hobbs is a star pitching prospect. His agent bets that he can strike out “The Whammer” (a Babe Ruth figure). He does it and later in the story he becomes a famous Home Run hitter. In a play-off game, the Pirates bring in a Nebraska farm boy with a blazing fastball to strike out Roy Hobbs.  It’s a role-reversal of the bet that happened years earlier.

Last night my wife and I curled up on the couch and watched The China Syndrome. This particular movie used a balancing device that I sometimes like to use in my short stories. The opening and ending shots of this film are the same. Yet, the end shot conveys much more meaning and emotion than the opening image.

And In My Writing

In some short stories, my opening and ending paragraphs are almost identical. Of course, just like in film, the ending carries a weightier meaning and evokes a heightened emotional response. I can think of two examples, “Night Flights,” and “A Purveyor of Odd Things,” from the Ragged Souls collection.

In “Night Flights,” when Peter hangs a new painting at the end, the reader has a deeper understanding of the odd visions the character has been experiencing.

In “A Purveyor of Odd Things,” the transformation of character is complete, yet he is standing in the same place as the beginning and performing the same task.

I wish I could do this in all of my stories, but not every plot lends itself to this particular device. My forthcoming fantasy novel An Easterly Sojourn uses one of the above Balancing acts. However, I’m not ready to give anything away just yet.

Do you use a form of balancing in your writing? Have you tried to use it? Have you noticed it elsewhere?




10 thoughts on “A Narrative Balancing Act

  1. Good questions. I don’t consciously think of balance, but sometimes it happens magically. When I think about my short stories and novels, one novel–Throw Away Kitten–does have the ending the same as the beginning; the story opens and closes with the little boy being awakened by his mom, but as you say, the character has changed (grown) and the reader knows the boy is waking to a different set of circumstances.

    I prefer character-driven stories, so my main character must grow in some form between the first and the last page. There is at least one story where the person is trying to get back to normal and escape a traumatic event, so I’ve used that balancing act.

    This is interesting to think about. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Great post. I love the same-opening-and-ending technique in films, as it highlights how the hero has changed.

    Stories need that balance. Even in Bond’s case, the remade Casino Royale was a roaring success because of the hero’s growth.


  3. I like it when I’m able to bring things full circle, though it doesn’t always work that way. It’s great when it does though!


  4. I’m so glad you posted this. I’ve done the opening and ending paragraph being the same before, as well as an intro being an excerpt from somewhere toward the end, and when you read it in the intro, you take it one way, but when you read it in context, you see it’s completely different. I didn’t realize I was actually doing “something” when I did that… I thought I was just “having fun” and that it would probably actually be considered bad form. I’m so glad to see other people recognize this. 🙂


    • Hi Rachel…so good to see you. Hope you’re feeling better.
      I think my best one was “A Purveyor Of Odd Things.” I did the paragraph similarity, but the settings for act I and act III are mirrors of each other. Of course, I had my MC start and end by looking in a mirror. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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