14:14 PB ELEMENT Blog Review: BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS – Looking at Desert Baths by Darcy Pattison
Desert Baths, another non-fiction picture book by Darcy Pattison and illustrated by Kathleen Reitz, shows the exemplary use of story elements that make for a rich reading and listening experience. This is a great companion book to Pattison’s Prairie Storms, with the same descriptive approach for illustrative moments in the lives of animals, this time desert animals. While several story elements here are strong (such as word play), there is one element that I think really enhances the story.
While pacing (a related element) is definitely present in this book, the progression of bath times throughout a desert day give us a distinct sense of beginnings and endings. The way Pattison reveals each moment in the day through an animal’s experience depicts the day itself as the main character. Consider these time-of-day phrases as each of the twelve animals’ baths are described:
“The desert dawn sends light…”
“…early morning water…”
“…hoping for a late morning rain…”
“…hiding from the hot noon sun…”
“…doze in the early afternoon heat…”
“…late afternoon heat shimmers…”
“…sunset stains the western sky…”
“…under the glittering evening stars…”
“…night—time to forage…”
“…by midnight, he’s full…”
“…in the wee hours of the morning…”
“…in the pre-dawn light.”
The first aspect of beginnings and endings in this story is what I call closure. I find that the two opposite ends of the story connect. Morning of one day meets the morning of another. The reader knows that the cycle has been completed. That cycle validates the strength of this story, because nothing feels as good as story coming to completeness. It’s a kind of satisfaction that humans long for, the settled state that even nature seems to love.
But another aspect of beginnings and endings in this story is what I call continuation. The morning-to-morning cycle isn’t a closed ring. What follows is not the same day, but a new day, that may be similar and familiar, but might be different too. While we want and love satisfaction, we also relish curiosity and wonder. The cycle of morning-to-morning doesn’t create a closed repeating circle, it creates a forward repeating spiral. And that sense of a forward moving story is as satisfying as closure.
I am challenged: do my stories’ beginnings and endings offer both closure and continuation? Depending on the story, continuation might not be as critical as closure. Maybe closure isn’t as important as the idea that something else, something related, might happen in another story down the road. Perhaps both are important to you, the writer as well as the reader.
I have a story about a dog who meets a goat. She doesn’t like the goat at first, but after getting the goat’s help in a backyard emergency, the dog accepts the goat and his amazing ability. As the crisis is concluded (closure), the dog wonders how she might be able to learn the goat’s special skill (continuation).
I wouldn’t have been able to recognize the beginnings and endings aspects of that story before exploring this element in Desert Baths. Thanks to this exercise, I’m more sensitive to the role of this story element in my work. Maybe you can share in your comments–what role do beginnings and endings play in your writing?