Writing Bookends for Fiction
by Bruce L. Cook
A Hollywood producer had an old film to revise, but it was set in a world two decades old. How could the film be revised at minimum expense and still brought up to date?
A screenwriter added content to the film and the beginning and end, and the older section became a flashback.
A writer can use bookends for this purpose and others. For example, in Stephen King’s The Green Mile, we see Paul Edgecombe in a rest home where he recalls the story of John Coffee’s death row execution. In this way, many years were compressed into a vignette, where we see the elderly narrator only at the tale’s beginning and end.
Perhaps your story has a complex opening, and it’s difficult for the reader to start in the midst of the turmoil. In this case, a short introduction or prologue can help put things in perspective. And, with an epilogue, the writer can summarize.
Perhaps a chronological story has a boring opening, like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. In this case, there’s a variation on bookends. The writer can move an exciting chapter to the beginning, and then continue from the old Chapter One. In this case, the action will reach the old chapter and its absence will hardly be noticed.
However executed, a bookend can help start a successful story, and hopefully help in the formidable task of gaining the attention of an acquisitions editor.
A bookend to the left, a bookend to the right. Prologue and epilogue. Whatever it takes!
Well, I’m afraid I won’t; though I would have loved to do this some years ago, but not now when I am seated in an editorial chair (me first works here too). Hey, don’t run fellas, I am still a writer and I won’t thrash any people of pen. But even if I do, I’ll use a writer-friendly ink. So here are some smart guidelines, or smartlines, on increasing your chances of selection at the editor’s desk.
- Read the complete guidelines of the publication and try level best to comply by them while submitting to an editor. In case you are not able, for some reason, to meet one or more requirement, query first with the editor for his/her approval of any alternatives.
- Always care about the length of your submission. It is quite common among writers to submit entries several thousands of words in length when the specified submission length is no more than one to two thousand words.
- Unless allowed through guidelines, don’t fret an editor by submitting in bulk. It is simply nauseating for an editor to open his inbox one morning and find it occupied by the invasion of a submitting machine.
- A few editors may allow anonymous submissions and/or entries without a title or a written note to the editor. But most would frown upon such entries. Take a moment to briefly introduce yourself and bother to pen down a few sentences about the background of your work.
- Do you love to submit in the latest, less commonly used programs that will charge the editor an extra hour in finding the software needed to run the program so as to be able to read/save your work? If so, then your chances are less than those submitting in standard formats and common programs like MS Word and Notepad. Why not use these ‘old-but-gold’ programs?
- Please be patient in hearing back from editors. Remember that editors are not answering machines. They usually run busy schedules (just like many of you) and pestering them with reminders is not welcome.
- Don’t shrink from future submissions if you are rejected once by an editor. You just need to do it better and win.
- Saying ‘Thank you!’ along with a few words of courtesy is always a good policy instead of walking out on someone.
Hoping the above comes helpful to you, allow me now to submit this article to the editor (I told you I am still a writer) and return to my own editorial chair.
Ernest Dempsey is the author of four published books and numerous individual writings published both online and in print. He is currently an assistant editor at the Loving Healing Press (Michigan) and the editor of their print quarterly Recovering the Self (http://www.recoveringself.com).
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Publishing New Writers,
April, 2010 (no. 1104)
Bruce L. Cook
6086 Dunes Dr,
Sanford, NC 27332
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