Stories resonate with readers more effectively when they come full-circle. Characters need to undergo some kind of change or growth (for better or for worse), and this change is best gauged by how they see their outer world and their inner landscape compared to their views at the beginning of the book.
This article will cover considerations you need to make for your story so that you can bring your main character full-circle from beginning to end.
Let’s hop to it!
Why Do Stories Have to Come Full-Circle?
There is a sense of completion through a story that comes full-circle. This means posing a story question at the beginning that is answered to the reader’s satisfaction at the end. This question drives the plot, one your reader is desperate to have the answer to!
- Will the detective solve the murder before she dies of brain cancer?
- Can Harry forgive his wife for her cheating ways or will he succumb to his own cheating tendencies to punish her?
- Is starting a war the only way Army Colonel McPhee can save his family?
We’re introduced to this story question within the first few pages, but not in so many words. It is woven through your main character’s story goal, motivation, character flaws, the Lie she Believes, and lessons she needs to learn.
When we start reading a book, we get to know your main character as she embarks on a journey to solve a problem or attain a desire. The story question is part of this discovery. If we don’t see her succeed or fail in this journey, if we’re left hanging at story’s end about how it all went down, if we don’t get the answer to the story question, then the author hasn’t followed through on the story they promised to give us on page one.
All characters will undergo some kind of change or growth. Even characters who are on a flat arc—their worldview may not change, but how they approach the problem (or question) over the course of the book will because their understanding of the problem (or question) will change.
Knowing how your story will end will help you know how your story will begin. Being clear on your beginning will help you find a strong ending that resonates with your readers.
What Does Your Main Character Want?
Your main character should have a story goal, a heart’s desire. This desire is what they are driven to attain throughout the book. It is why there’s a story at all. A character who doesn’t want something specific and almost-impossible is not going to give us a very interesting story.
She can have an abstract desire (I want to be successful), but it needs to be attained through a concrete object, event, or situation so readers can see her attain the desire first-hand. For a character who wants to be successful, you could have her be elected president of her country, start up her own business, win a war—whatever “success” means to your character and her specific situation. This concrete event will avoid confusion for your readers. They won’t be left wondering, well, was the protagonist successful at the end?
Why Does Your Main Character Want Her Want?
Motivation behind the desire will help everyone, you and your readers, follow along with the journey. If we don’t know why your protagonist wants to be successful, then it would be difficult to sympathize with her when she fails or makes a mistake. We also will have a hard time putting ourselves in her shoes if she acts immorally. Understanding why she wants her want will keep you in line with her emotional responses, her choices, and her moral compass.
What Is Your Main Character’s Inner Need?
An external goal (success) helps us develop the plot and the action of your story. But your character’s growth comes from the tough lessons along the way. What does she need to learn, understand, forgive, release, fix, grow, evolve, stand up for in order to get her closer to her want?
Remember, the want is external. The need is internal. Both work together to create a complex character. If we don’t undergo inner change or growth in order to get the thing we want, then getting the thing we want will be too easy and therefore too boring.
Ask yourself how this inner need can help your protagonist be clearer on her want. Ask yourself how this will make her re-evaluate what she wants. Is the need now enough for her to attain her want OR does it shed light on a new want to which she shifts?
Does Your Main Character Get What She Wants?
Knowing this answer before you begin writing your whole book will help you write the whole book. Ha! Annoying but true. I realize that many writers are morally opposed to figuring out the end before they even get there but if we’re aiming for your character to come full-circle, then knowing the end will help you fashion your beginning.
Some characters get what they want but aren’t happy with the outcome. Others are delighted. And many more end up feeling conflicted. Where does your main character stand in relation to getting what she wants? Why is she happy (or unhappy or conflicted)?
What Does Your Main Character Lose Along Her Journey?
This could be a relationship, a home, innocence, belongings, faith, status. How does this loss change her understanding of herself that she had at the beginning of the story? Would she have done things differently? Does she learn the lesson, or does she still have things to work through? Can you connect the thread of this loss so it comes full-circle?
How Does Your Main Character Grow Along Her Journey?
In what ways has your main character grown or evolved? Who or what has she become more aware of? Did she learn any lessons and what were they? What do your readers know about her at the beginning of her journey that we see at the end of her journey but in a different way?
Using Other Storytelling Elements To Bring Your Story Full-Circle
Story World: Your story world, society, culture can illuminate or underscore the change undergone in your character’s journey. Literary devices, images, dialogue, descriptions, or events are some possible ways you can show the change or growth. Don’t forget to consider any larger worldview ideologies or messages that the book attempts to relay.
Plot Layers: Consider the minor or lesser conflicts that are experienced by your main character. These should impact the main conflict all along and have their own arc. Such layers can help dramatize your main character’s growth. Are there twists that can help bring your story full-circle? Any new questions that may rise?
Subplots: Same as plot layers, but in regard to your supporting characters and their growth.
Have you tried to bring your story full-circle? Any tips or tricks you learned?