Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Using Circularity

by Jill Williamson

Circularity is bringing things full circle. This could happen at the end of a scene, a chapter, a book, or a series. It's when you tie up all your loose ends and, sometimes, create those "Ah!" moments.

The trick to doing this well tends to happen during the rewrite stage for me, but it could happen in planning too. Take a look at the beginning of your story/chapter/scene and look for opportunities to apply circularity. Ask yourself, "What can I bring back that will be necessary or fun? What loose ends need tied up?"


Circularity in your characters
Character traits can create circularity. For example, in the book Because of Winn Dixie, we learn early on that the dog hates thunder storms, which makes it all the more powerful when the storm comes at the end of the book and Opal can't find the dog. In my book Replication, Martyr's sacrificial nature comes back in a big way. Giving is a big part of who he is, so the reader isn't a bit surprised that he'd make the choice he made. And it makes the reader like him even more.

Circularity in your dialogue
Circularity in dialogue is fun because it's how people talk in real life. It's the inside jokes we use with our friends. Those, "You had to be there" moments. When you create inside jokes in your story that your reader gets, it makes him happy.

You can also set things up in dialogue to come back later. Clues. Plot twists. Resolutions. In my book The New Recruit, Gabe suggests that Spencer would be the best person to reach out to Pasha, which makes Spencer angry at the time. Then later, when Spencer is reaching out to Pasha, he thinks back on that conversation with Gabe with a "Well, what do you know?"-type of attitude.

Circularity in your narrative
The movie Zombieland does circularity fabulously with the rules that flash on the screen. The main character explains the rules in the beginning narrative of the movie, but as the movie goes on, whenever he survives a hairy situation, the rule flashes on screen again. Beware of bathrooms. Cardio. Double-tap.

Circularity in your plot
Pride and Prejudice has a ton of circularity. It is so fabulous. (I just watched it--again--last weekend when my husband was out of town.) This story is all about misunderstandings that come back around to reveal the truth.

And one of my all-time favorite examples of circularity: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. That WHOLE ending is fabulous. From the point of going to Hagrid's hut to give one last farewell to Buckbeak and onward, we see it all happen, and then we see it all happen again from a different vantage point. Brilliant.


Circularity isn't always a positive/positive set up. Sometimes it's the opposite. A great trick with character development is--somewhere near the beginning of the story, whether in narrative or dialogue--to have your character say, "I'll never do that," then by the end of the story, make them do it. Find a way to change them through the course of the story.

Practice looking for circularity when you watch TV. This can sometimes be all too easy if the shows aren't well-written. When watching detective shows, my husband always says, "He did it!" when a nobody has a tiny speaking part early on. Hollywood likes to save money, and if an actor speaks, they make a lot more money. So when small characters speak early on, they tend to play a bigger role later. See what other types of circularity you can find in your favorite shows.

Circularity doesn't only happen at the end. Circles come in all sizes. One of my favorite small circles from my Blood of Kings trilogy is when Vrell uses the leg sweep on Achan. He'd been trying to teach it to her for weeks when he thought she was a boy, and she could never manage it. And then, at the best possible moment, she get him good. It's a great moment, and the reader smiles big. That tiny subplot came full circle and it was worth the extra effort it took to write it all into the story.

Have you used circularity in your stories? Share how. Or give me an example of circularity from a book, movie, or TV show.

35 comments:

  1. Hmm, I don't think I have yet, but it's always something that makes me grin when I see it in a book. Always makes me think, "I SO want to do that." So I try to pay attention for a chance to use it to show up. :)

    I can't remember the last "circularity" I noticed :( Oh, well.

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  2. Circularity is one of my all-time favorite devises! Small circles are fun, but I also often work in a subtle, big one. Like repeating phraseology from chapter 1 in one of the last chapters. In Ring of Secrets, I do this with my invisible ink, which is a major part of the book. In the first chapter, my heroine is uncovering a heat-developed ink with a flame. At the end, the hero is doing the same thing, and I use the exact same words as I did in chapter one, to show that the two have arrived at the same place. My editor noticed it on her second read and thought it was a really fun touch. =)

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    1. That's very cool, Roseanna. I'd like to read your books. If only I had time to read everything! :-/
      One of these days...

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  3. I'll definitely be keeping that in mind! I have never really thought about it before, but circularity can make a huge impact in a story!
    I'm actually reading your blood of kings trilogy right now, and I came to the leg-sweep scene last night. It made me so happy, I had to go back and read it several times :-)! Thanks for writing such an awesome series! I'm obssesed with it ;-).

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    1. LOL! Nice timing, Alli! I'm glad you liked the leg sweep scene. It was super fun to write. And I'm glad you're liking the books. :-)

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  4. The ending of Prisoner of Azkaban is genius! I wish I could do what JK Rowling did in that book--introduce all those seemingly random things and make them HUGELY important-I mean, almost everything in that book ended up tying into the ending somehow.
    I'm not sure if I'm doing a good job with circuitry or not, that's something I'll have to think about.

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    1. I finished book three at, like, one am, then paged back 100 pages and read the ending again. Went to bed at three, but I was so delighted.

      Give it a try sometime, Allison. You get better at it with practice.

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  5. I love doing this!! It really adds something to the story. :-) I notice circularity in TV crime shows ALL THE TIME, Jill!

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    1. We've been watching Castle. I love that show. I SO want to get me a bullet-proof vest that says WRITER.

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  6. I can't really think of anything other than Peeta's cake decorating skills coming back to help him stay alive in the arena. In my own book (which coming along pitifully slow) I think I can add circularity to my characters from habits and, like you were saying, inside joke type stuff. I hadn't heard of circularity before, but now it makes a lot of sense! And thank you for spoiling Winn Dixie's ending for me :P Sierra
    Keep growing beautiful!

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    1. Good one, Sierra! Peeta's skills are a great example.
      Oh no! Sorry about spoiling Winn Dixie! My bad. O-o

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  7. LOL I remember the leg sweep. XD haha, I love those books! ;)

    Great post! This is really helpful, and I can't wait to spin things in circles! I mean--well, you know. ;D

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    1. Totally, Dakota. :-)
      Glad you liked the books.

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  8. Such a cool post! I think I used circularity a few times in my current book - the most obvious one being a large one, from the first to last chapter. In the first chapter, my MC's life changes drastically (and so does his name.) In the last chapter, he begins to return to his old life, and as a symbol of the impending change and his trust in the other MC, he shares his original name with her.

    ...that IS circularity, right? :P

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    1. Sure! That sounds fun, too. Good job, Olivia!

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  9. From Amo Libros:
    I love circularity! It can create a...satisfied feeling in the reader, even if the ending of the circle is unpleasant.
    In my current WIP, my heroine is an orphan, and throughout the story, she begins to find a new "family", bonding with the other characters. There's one who becomes a father figure for her, and I'm hoping to plant that in the readers' minds by having her remember moments her own father at some point earlier in the story, and then later, use some of the same phrasing when I talk about this new character, to help establish in the readers' minds exactly what the relationship is, and how important it is to her.

    One of my most favorite (and perhaps very obvious) examples of circularity is int he original Star Wars trilogy. At the end of Empire Strikes Back, Luke faces Vader, Vader tempts him, tells him he is Luke's father, and cuts off his hand (though not quite in that order). At the end of episode 6 (Return of the Jedi) Luke is in this situation once again. The Emperor and VAder are both trying to turn him to the Dark side, but Luke refuses to fight his own father. Finally, they find Luke's weakness and he loses control, beating back Vader in a heat of fury and rage until Vader's black gloved hand goes spinning down into darkness. The Emperor laughs. Luke's eyes widen as he takes in the stump of Vader's hand (no blood, just wire - it was a prosthetic) and his gaze drops to his own black-gloved prosthetic hand. He lowers his blade.
    It's a great moment, and kind of hits the viewer over the head, but in a good, emotional-punch way. Luke has just done the thing he dreaded, the thing Vader did to him. But he doesn't despair or give in. Instead, he refuses to go any further. He throws away his lightsaber.

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    1. Good idea, Amo! That sounds very clever.

      And great example with Luke Skywalker. That is an amazing moment. I can see his eyes looking at the stump and wires in my head right now. Such a great moment for his character. Thanks for sharing that.

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  10. Thanks for a great post! This is something I should start to use. It always makes me smile in books. Also, were you trying to create circularity with the colorful circles?

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  11. This post is interesting - circularity is one of those things I never think about, but I do notice when it's in books.
    Prisoner of Azkaban is probably my favourite example of this, the Time-Turner scenes were brilliant. I also like how there was foreshadowing in the book for that (actually, there was loads of foreshadowing in PoA, J K Rowling's great at that).
    I'll definitely look for ways to put this into my book!

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    1. You're right. She is great at that, Kate. :-)

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  12. I love using circularity in my stories, and so enjoy reading it in books. Especially those "inside joke" moments, where the reader can really recognize the circle in the characters and story. That's when a story becomes more than just something to read to pass the time. I get all excited just thinking that maybe some day someone will read one of my stories and realize those little circles. :-)

    Oh, and that moment of Vrell and Achan. Priceless. Those two are some of my favorite characters. :-)

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    1. It's a giddy feeling when I write something like that. It makes me super happy. My husband thinks I'm weird, of course, be he thought that already... lol

      Thanks for your kind words about Achan and Vrell! :-)

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  13. I do love circularity (especially making all those seemingly loose ends in my novels tie up in a funky twist), but I have to say, I'm a fan of the unsaid as well. Lois Lowry is great at it! I love how in The Giver, you never get the answers to many of your questions.

    Just yesterday, I sorted out a massive circularity in my books. It was pretty cool. Gives me a satisfied feeling that maybe I can do this tricky writing thing too. ;)

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    1. You totally can, Cait! Keep at it.
      And you're right. Sometimes it's cool to leave the reader wondering. Not everything always has to be tied up neatly.

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  14. Awesome post. ^ ^ I'm going to see circularity everywhere now. XD I do circularity with my characters' abilities. :)

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    1. Cool, Victoria! You probably will see it everywhere. :-)

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  15. It's an odd coincidence that this post came out after I updated my "elements" list for my WIP for the first time in a few months. :) I've gotten into the habit of making a list of plot things and themes, both big and small, that occur more than once. And I try to mention how exactly I bring about finality to each thing, even it's only to mention it again. I guess it's just a good way to keep track of... everything. xD

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    1. Good idea, Jessica! I make lists like that too sometimes, and it's nice to see everything in one place.

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    2. Love this idea. Just "booked" Jessica for a guest post on it :)

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  16. I know this is kind of late, but I knew I would think of an example of circulation at some point. In The Lord of the Rings movies (and the books I believe) Gimli and Legolas keep score of how many Orcs they slay throughout the battles. It's first noticed in The Two Towers, with Gimli informing Legolas that he's gotten "two already!" and Legolas replies, "I'm on seventeen." Then, in Return of the King Legolas takes down the giant elephant while counting to himself how many people he takes out as well. Once the elephant is down Gimli says, "That still only counts as one!"

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    1. From Amo Libros:
      I love that part!! It's one of my favorites; it really helps to lighten up what would otherwise be two very dark battles, and it helps to underscore the competitive friendship that has grown up between Legolas and Gimli.
      (Have you seen the directors cut of the aftermath of Isengard? They pull the "contest" concept out again, and it's hysterical!)

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  17. I'm not sure if this is circularity or not, but early on in the book I mention my MC having a "thing" about water, and then you find out later that his whole family drowned.
    Also, in other section, he claims not to blame himself or feel guilty at all for his family's death, but then you find out later that that's one of his biggest problems.

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  18. Great post, Jill! I love circularity. I love finding it in stories and trying to include it in my own when I can. :)

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