Creative Writers compose stories that begin in one place and end in another. But this is not done in a vacuum. It is done within the lives of people, albeit completely fictional. Why do we start here and end there? The lives of the characters begin long before the book starts, and unless they die on the page, their lives go on. Why we seemingly pick two arbitrary boundaries is not a real problem with readers, but subconsciously it’s prickly. A good way to psychologically handle this problem is with a technique called book jacketing.
Just like a good, old fashioned book jacket, sometimes called a dust cover, the book jacket wraps around the front cover and around the back cover. In a literary sense, book jacketing is when the author references something at the beginning of the story that we bring back at the end. It provides a satisfactory sense of closure to the story as a whole. It sort of makes sense of why we begin here and end there.
I’ll give a few examples from my own novels, since I am more familiar with them than anything else. In my third novel, Prince, the main character, Charlie, proposes marriage to his sweetie, Lizzie, in chapter one. After she says yes, they talk about their future. Charlie thinks it’ll all be bluebirds and sunshine and Lizzie is worried things may go poorly just because life does at times. They leave chapter one with a wager, if it isn’t happily ever after then I’ll owe you a coke.
I don’t have to tell you things went south quickly. They never got married. As they are saying their good byes at the end, Lizzie reaches into a brown paper bag and pulls out a six pack of Coca-Cola. Charlie refuses them and insists that they will someday have their own happily ever after, just not at that time and not in that world. It’s such an incidental thing, a can of soda, just it ties the story in a bow for the reader.
My fifth novel, Pietas, begins with a nuthouse burning and patience running free while being chased by doctors and attendants. Two of these escapees are my main character, Darl, and his best friend, Benjy. Darl set the fire in order for the two of them to escape, which suits him since he was put in the asylum for burning down a barn. As they run away from the inferno, Darl says that the first thought that ran through his head was that he had no more excuse and had to visit his mother’s grave.
Darl and Benjy, followed by others from the asylum, have adventures all over Mississippi during the Great Depression before settling down in Panther Burn. The citizens are slow to include these people, but with Darl’s help, they end up on big happy town. But Darl kills a man and has to leave. As he rides off, he thinks about heading towards Jackson where his mother us buried. Here the book jacket is not an item but a thought. It functions just as effectively in summing up all the action of all these people into a single story.
Entanglement is my seventh and last novel. It begins with Rex shooting a mouse in the corner of his living room. His cousin, Axel, runs into the room and takes the gun from him. The gun belonged to Axel’s dead father and he didn’t like Rex playing with the gun. Later, Rex and Axel fight in public and neither are willing to let it go for reasons of their own pride. About halfway through the novel, Rex takes the same gun and kills Axel on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.
Rex flees to Cuba and settles in Havana. But after a decade there, he has the need once more to leave in haste for killing another man, so he returns the St Petersburg. His plantation is in ruins and the mansion is abandoned except of the butler. He used Rex’s so it still worked, and he took it to go to the Governor’s New Year’s Ball that night. Things go badly for Rex, and driving away he almost has a wreck from being distracted. When he stops suddenly, the gun slides out from under the passenger seat. A policeman pulls Rex over for his erratic driving and Rex, a crack shot, unloads his gun on the cop, who ends up unharmed. The policeman returns fire and Rex dies. Here the book jacket item is important to the telling of the story.
Not all of my novels are book jacketed, but it is a device available to writers. It can be something the story centers around, like a gun. It could be a thought like I need to visit my mother’s grave. Or it may be something as innocuous as a can of Coke. Anything can be used as a book jacket.