Imagine that! Opening and Closing Images
Great books begin with great openings. It’s our first taste of a story that will excite, move, and enthrall us. And endings are just as important, providing the feeling that will stay with us after we close the cover.
The key to a great beginning and a great ending is to make them partners!
Screenwriters have long used an Opening Image and a Closing Image to help create both a sense of symmetry and evolution in their stories. Novelists use this technique too, and kid-lit writers are no exception.
An opening image gives us a snapshot into the main character’s life before their adventure changes them. The closing image is similar to the opening image, but shows important ways in which the character–and sometimes, their entire world–has changed.
These partner images are so satisfying because they help the story feel like it has come full-circle, while still showing how a character has grown.
Here’s the opening scene from the Pixar film, WALL-E. We zoom in on a garbage infested earth. There are no plants. No people. Just our little robot hero, working all alone. (Well, he has a cockroach friend, but that’s it!)
Now, here’s the final scene. We see WALL-E, no longer alone. He’s with his true robot love, Eva. They have other robot friends! There are people, growing plants! We zoom out and see Earth–not fully healed–but greener and healthier than at the start.
The two scenes mirror each other, but show how WALL-E’s life has improved and the positive effect that’s having on the world.
Using images makes a lot of sense in, well, motion pictures. But using similar phrases, descriptions, and situations at the start and end of a novel works just as well…
There’s a great example of an opening and closing image in Rosanne Parry’s wonderful animal adventure novel for kids, A WOLF CALLED WANDER.
Here’s the opening passage:
I begin in darkness, and my nose tells me everything I know. I have a brother. Sharp. Bigger than me, and all growl. I have sisters. Pounce, who loves to wrestle, and Wag, who talks with her tail. And best of all, my brother Warm, who likes to curl up under my chin, the only pup smaller than me. I nose each one of them and the damp dirt above and the dry grass below. I circle the den while the others drowse. I take test runs up the tunnel. They call me Swift because I was the first to stand up and walk.
A few pages later, the opening image concludes with Swift’s mother telling him:
“The pack belongs to the mountains and the mountains belong to the pack,” she begins. “And the wolf star shines on us all.”
Now, here’s the final passage of the novel:
Our pups begin in darkness, but my nose tells me they are mine. Ours. A pack of our own. I nose-touch my thanks to Night. I lick all three pups from ears to tail, memorizing every squirming bit of them. Every step of my journey was for this, beautiful this. I lift up my head and sing their names to the wolf start that watches us all.
At the start of the book, Swift is a pup in a family pack. By the end of the novel, his original pack has been scattered. After traveling countless miles on his own–and adopting the new name, Wander–he finally finds a mate, named Night, and starts his own family. The imagery of pups, smells, and the wolf star helps the end mirror the beginning while simultaneously showing us how much our wolf hero has grown. Literally! Into a parent! It’s the circle of life! (For real though, The Lion King is another perfect example of opening and closing images that mirror each other!)
To learn more about opening and closing images, check out the “Save the Cat” story structure, first explained by screenwriter Blake Snyder, and developed more for novels by author Jessica Brody. Snyder coined the terms and his wise words have been helping writers start–and finish–with style ever since.