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Writing Circular Stories

By Will Clark

A circular story begins and ends in a single place or space of time. We see this in autobiographies sometimes, or stories which began in the present and then travel from the past into the present again.

A key aspect of this style is the constant references to the present as the past is told. Saleem Sinai in Midnights Children (by Salman Rushdie) refers to his present in a pickle factory as he explains the past of his life. As he journeys through his own life, we gain a greater significance of his pickle factory present.  The most important part of circular stories is that the journey through the past leads to a wholly different understanding of the beginning’s present. A scar on the narrator’s face in the beginning becomes explained by the end. Even though nothing has changed by the end, the story and explanation gives a new life to the way we see the narrators present circumstances.

When writing circular stories, it is important to make the journey through the past worthwhile. There must be something for the reader to gain by going through the past. The present should be at least half hidden until the final return to it.

The benefit of this method is that you are not bound by linear storytelling, the writer can flash back and forth between present and past (and keep the reading worthwhile as long as they don’t give too much away.) One drawback of this style is that you know exactly where you are going, and the reader does too. This can create a sense of fate (or expectation) in the story which might be good or bad depending on what you want.

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