On Parallel Structures at the Beginning and End (Especially in the Short Story “Burn”)

Yesterday I read Daniel Swensen’s short story, “Burn,” and it caused me to think on parallel beginnings and endings. I won’t spoil the story for you. It ‘s a short story, and anything spoilerish would destroy the anticipation. But I will say this: the beginning jolted me into the story, and the end jolted me out. Whether this effect was intentional or not, it was as effective as dumping a drunk’s head in cold water. It served to seat me down in the character’s POV immediately and unapologetically; it also ripped me out of her head to let her go on her merry, or perhaps not so merry? — way. These “brackets” set the stage. They were a visceral reminder of the character’s own experience in a world absolutely hostile to her very being, and that reminder came before I knew anything about the character herself. 

Again, I’m not talking of events in the story, but of structure itself. I don’t know if I’ve read a story where the beginning events mirror the end events. But as to how an author draws you in and leads you out, most slowly set the scene, introduce the character, and finally introduce the conflict; then they do something completely different for their ending. Stories tend to have a petering denouement after the climax, and, sometimes, an epilogue follows the denouement. There is nothing wrong with this traditional approach. In fact, I used the traditional approach in my story, “One Flesh.” But I wanted to applaud Mr. Swensen for being bold and using a different structure. Something that most authors would have either been too afraid to use or would have failed at implementing. 

Thanks for the good read, man. 

-Ben

One Reply to “On Parallel Structures at the Beginning and End (Especially in the Short Story “Burn”)”

  1. Oh, I didn’t know this happened. Thanks, Ben Mattice. I think BURN has something of an unconventional structure, but that was intentional. It’s supposed to be a story that’s without easy answers or tidy wrap-ups, with a little room for questions at the end. Ambitious for a bitty superhero short, maybe, but I mostly tried to make a good tale that people would dig reading.

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