One of my favorite movies ever is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty–the new one, with Ben Stiller. (I have the ticket stub in my wallet still to remind me to get out there and stop dreaming and start living, but that’s neither here nor there.) Aside from being incredibly inspiring, it’s just brilliantly executed. The storytelling is excellent. But of all the best aspects, from a writing point of view, my favorite is the way they bookended the film.
Bookends are those things you use to hold your books up so they don’t tumble down. But if you only have one bookend, you’re only covered on one end of your series. Either the beginning is sturdy while the end fizzles into a haphazard pile, or the end is well-supported while the beginning topples. For bookends to really be any good, you need them on both ends.
What do bookends have to do with storytelling in general, or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in particular?
The very first frame of the film shows Walter sitting at his desk, in his small, bland, angular room, too nervous to reach out and press the button on his computer to send a “wink” to his co-worker on eHarmony. The last frame of the film shows him outdoors, bestubbled, reaching out to confidently grasp her hand in his.
The story is about what happens in between to change him from the person at the beginning, to the person at the end. The final moment perfectly mirrors the first moment, creating a snapshot of the story, supporting everything that came between.
As I’ve been working on editing Firmament: Reversal Zone, I’ve been trying to tighten it, make it flow better, bring it all together into a more coherent flow. My plots can tend to ramble, and the original beginning of this book was pretty rambly and uninteresting. How to make a better beginning? I thought of Walter Mitty, and I knew the answer. Bookends. Where is Andi at the end, and how can I show her in a different place at the beginning, necessitating the middle to bring her to a better place?
I can’t tell you that yet. Spoilers. But finally, instead of being intimidated by having to come up with a whole new beginning, rather than worrying about making it worse or being inadequate, I opened up my shiny new laptop, opened up a brand new document, and asked Andi a question.
Like the ticket stub in my wallet reminds me–stop dreaming. Start writing.