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Exercise: Coming full circle

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Florence Cardinal
Posted on: July 26, 2003
Reposted on: May 30, 2004
Reposted on: May 28, 2005
Reposted on: April 23, 2006

(This is an updated version of exercise first run as "Closing the circle".)

Many spiritual beliefs include references to the circle and consider it to be sacred. Native Americans, for instance, have the circle of life. The Buddhist mandala is in the shape of a circle, and don't forget healing circles, circles of magic, and on and on.

Circles play a large part in many areas, even in writing. Bringing a story full circle is one of many techniques used for writing effective endings. For instance, if you start the story with softly falling snowflakes, then maybe end it by mentioning the snow again. This device can use a repeated symbol or image to establish a sense of closure. It's even more effective if this repeated symbol has somehow been changed by the events in the story. The change can be subtle or something really startling.

A story follows a certain pattern - rising progressively to a climax, then winding down to closure. (This is referred to as the story arc, or can be drawn as a lopsided triangle.) At the end, whatever situation was dealt with should have returned to a normal state - the crisis is resolved, in some form or other. The use of a repeated symbol or image helps establish this sense of closure.

For instance, this is from the first paragraph of a descriptive essay I wrote:

   With the first killing frost, the pelicans left me, heading
   for their winter home in Texas.

This is from the last paragraph of the same essay:

   As I trudge up the path, I look up and see frost fairies
   dancing in the moonlight.

With the mention of frost in both paragraphs, I have brought it full circle. In the first I refer to the devastation of that 'killing frost' but by the end, I have come to terms with the arrival of winter and learned to enjoy it as I watch 'frost fairies dancing in the moonlight.'

For this exercise, write a scene or description of 300 to 500 words, and bring it "full circle" by using something from the beginning at the end. Try to show how that something had been altered.

To critique, focus on whether or not the scene uses the beginning symbolism at the end, and whether you can see any change. Remember, this symbol can be anything - a place, an object, even an animal or a person, and the change can be subtle or far-reaching.

Have fun!

Florence Cardinal's wrap-up
Posted on: August 4, 2003

A good week. I think almost everyone gave the Coming Full Circle exercise a try and lots of critiques to round things out.

Sometimes the circle element was a scene, sometimes event, often just a word. Some not only brought the piece full circle, but the repeated word or phrase appeared several times in the story, creating not only a circle but a motif or a symbol and that's another exercise we have had previously.

The majority of the critiques pointed out what circle appeared in the story and whether it was successful or not.

We're hoping that this exercise points out one device that will add more to your story. You wouldn't want to use it with every story but occasionally a piece will need something to finish it, to make it complete. Find a word, phrase, scene - anything near the beginning and let it appear again at the end. We'll be doing exercises on other literary devices so watch for them.

Florence Cardinal

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Modified by Gayle Surrette.