The bookends technique is a device used in magazine writing, screenwriting and novels to create a satisfying narrative structure by placing the setup of an anecdote or short scene at the beginning of a piece and the resolution to that anecdote or short scene at the very end of the larger piece. Although there is no one method of creating a satisfying piece of written work using the bookends technique, basic guidelines apply.
The First Bookend
Choose a short anecdote that expresses a single idea through the actions of the characters or the setting within that anecdote. The anecdote should not be overly long or have tangents. Because this anecdote will serve as the opening to a longer in-depth work, the first part of the anecdote should express the idea that the longer work will explore in detail.
The first part of the anecdote, which will serve as the initial bookend should intrigue the reader with a novel premise. The anecdote should lay out basic storytelling elements, without resolving itself, and then lead the reader naturally into the longer work.
The Last Bookend
After the central idea of the piece has been explored in the longer work, the last bookend serves as the elegant finishing touch to the longer work.
The last bookend should provide the resolution to the first bookend. Additionally, this resolution should echo the summations of the longer work and provide the reader with a sense of closure.
Example of a Successful Bookend
As an example, an essay on the best ways to train dogs could open with a bookend about a contentious relationship between what the reader assumes is a dog and its owner. The main body of the essay will explain that the best way to train dogs is not only through traditional methods of disciplining the animal but also by the exercise of self-disciple on the part of the owner. The last bookend will reveal that, by cleverly disguising the use of pronouns, the subjects of the first bookend were in fact reversed--that the animal was well-trained but the owner had not yet learned to adapt his habits to best take care of the dog.
- "Feature and Magazine Writing: Action, Angle and Anecdotes"; David E. Sumner, Holly G. Miller; 2009
Julia Lai is a frequent contributor to Los Angeles-based arts and literature publications. She graduated from University of California, Los Angeles with a bachelor's degree in history and has been writing professionally since 2008.