Monday, January 16, 2006

Story Resolutions--Part 3

Thanks, y’all, for hangin’ with me over the weekend. I really hadn’t intended to make you wait an extra day to continue discussion on this topic, but as I prepared to post for Friday, I realized this discussion could go a few more days, and I wanted to get out the word about River Rising.

One more thing I want to tell you before we get back to the discussion. Last Friday I received my first copy of Web of Lies. It’s always so great to see a book for the first time. This one is particularly satisfying to see, after all I went through to write it. Those of you who read this blog’s NES (Never-Ending Saga) last year may remember my telling you how I began displaying the first copy of each published book I received on top of a partition wall in my office. In April of 2001, with the publication of my first novel, I had three books on that wall—my true crime, A Question of Innocence; its German version; plus the novel, Cast a Road Before Me. Remember how I told you my goal was to fill that wall? Well, now with Web of Lies, it’s absolutely stuffed full of face-out books—28 in all. That’s 11 different books in their various forms (foreign translations, book club hard cover, etc.) Of course, more are in the works (foreign translations lag behind), so who knows where I’ll put the next ones. But I look at that wall and can only say, “Thank You, God.” That wall is a testament to His faithfulness to this writer, who is simply nothing without His guidance. I look at that wall and feel immensely humbled at what He has done.

Okay. Back to story resolutions.

I want to reiterate how important I think it is to push the action of the crisis/climax as close to the end of the book as possible. Too long of a resolution is going to drag out the book. And I’ll tell you, even a bang-up book, if it drags in the end, will leave the reader unsatisfied. You gotta leave ’em with a bang. And yet, by definition, a resolution is hardly the biggest bang of the story. Hence the challenge to write a satisfying one.

Recently I read a well-written suspense that disappointed me in the end. The crisis/climax took place a good four or so chapters before the end of the book. Those final chapters were all pure resolution in various parts of the main character’s life. No conflict, just tying up loose ends. It was boring.

We left off Thursday with this sentence: “To help find the right [concluding] scene, I ask myself two questions.” Those questions are:

1. How far into the future—that is, after the climax ends—do I need to go in order for the loose ends to be tied up?

2. What is the best scene in that time period that will (a) give readers a satisfying look at my character’s life after all the traumatic events, and (b) allow a natural insertion of necessary explanations regarding how everything during the main story really happened?

1. How far into the future? In Brink of Death I only needed to move forward two days for the resolution to take place. In Violet Dawn, (releasing in August), I had to move forward six months. As is typical with my suspenses, both of these novels push the action in the climax up to the last sentence. But in Brink of Death, all the fallout and sorting out from that climactic scene only takes a couple days. In Violet Dawn, the whole main story takes place in about 14 hours. But the fallout of those events takes months to resolve. If I wrote a scene two days later, I’d leave way too many loose ends for the reader.

So, time needed to resolve the story is the driving force. I don’t have any “rule” about how little or how long the time should be. It’s simply whatever will satisfy the reader for that particular book. This doesn’t mean, for example, that the bad guy has to go through a trial, be convicted, sentenced, put on death row and executed. It’s enough for the reader to know the bad guy has been caught, is off the streets, and there’s no question he’ll be convicted. Now, if there is a question as to conviction, that would be one reason to place the resolution months or even a year or so later, after the trial.

Problem is, the further forward you have to place the resolution, the harder it is to write. Readers may not be content simply to see the character that much later, all perfectly fine and emotionally healed after the ordeal. They’ll feel cheated if they’re not given at least a taste of the struggle to get to that place of strength. So this kind of resolution is going to have to creatively weave in some of those struggles of the past months, and show that the character is continuing to struggle in some way.

Some continuing struggle at the end of the book is a good thing, by the way. Life isn’t perfect, and even in a happy ending there should be signs of some challenges ahead.

2a. Give readers a satisfying look at my character’s life. Suspense may be a plot-driven genre, but I still say in the end it’s all about the characters. The character arc for the hero/heroine as well as other supporting characters is critical. This is why I ask myself the 2a question before the 2b—how to allow a natural insertion of all explanations. If I allowed 2b to lead me in creating the scene, I’d end up with a boring scene full of facts and tying-up-loose-ends narrative. When I structure the scene for the best picture of the character’s personal life, I’m far more likely to write an interesting, compelling scene. A shell of a scene for a mere “tell-all” will be boring, I assure you. But if the scene shows the character on the other side of the trauma, working on getting on with his/her life, there can be some natural personal conflict within it, and the reader will be able to see what the character has learned through the story events.

Problem is, a personal-based resolution is way harder to write, 'cause then you're really stuck trying to weave in all those explanations creatively. Tomorrow we'll look at some ways of how to do that.

Read Part 4


Gina Holmes said...

Brandilyn, Thanks for this lesson. It's very timely for me as I get ready to wrap up my latest wip.

You're a great teacher!

Tina said...

I've been satisfied with every one of your story resolutions so far, so it's interesting to see your process for choosing that final scene. It's such an important part of the book. Thanks for sharing more gems!

rose said...

Super ideas for making sure our stories have great endings. Even though I don't write suspense, I think the ideas could apply to all genres of writing. I was wondering, Brandilyn, if you ever purposely leave a dangling point to tie up in the next book in a series. thanks, rose

Bonnie Calhoun said...

You are a most excellent teacher! I am learning so much from you, Brandilyn.

I don't want to go off topic, but with your statement that suspense is plot-driven...would you give the rest of the genre divisions and whether they're plot or character driven?