Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Story Resolutions--Part 4

I have to admit, I’m having trouble writing on this topic, because I can’t give you specific examples from my stories. I feel like I’m talking in too many generalities. I hope I’m managing to get at least one concrete idea across that will be useful to you all out there.

So let’s say I’ve figured out the basic setting and events for my resolution. Figured out a way to insert some conflict as I tie up loose ends. Now what?

On the personal side, I try to bring as many characters into the scene as possible. Either they are physically present, or there’s a phone call, or the main character is thinking of a recent conversation with that person, or all of the above. A lot of the characters will have personal details hanging that I will want to address in some way. I may resolve the issue, or if it’s a series, as in the Hidden Faces books, I may even insert a new question (say, a romantic one) that will carry the reader into the next book.

The harder issue is weaving all the necessary explanations/facts into the scene in a natural way. Because I’ve spent 98% of the book laying false assumptions for my readers, I have to untangle all of those, and spell out (again, without connecting every dot) what really happened. I also have to tie up the loose ends, letting the reader know what has happened between the climax and the resolution scene. The key is to focus on the emotion of the scene, figuring out how to slip information in as the characters deal with their issues. The dozens of pieces of information can be inserted in these ways:

1. Action. The main character can be confronting someone, returning home, dealing emotionally with the fallout of the trauma, receiving a package, reading a newspaper, talking on the phone, convalescing in the hospital, attending a final court hearing—the choices are endless. What action will give you the best framework in which to insert the necessary information?

2. Conversation. The trick here is that it has to be natural. The characters need to really be talking to each other—not you, the author, talking to the reader. The best dialogue slips in information a bit at a time. Good dialogue also skips over the details and makes a statement that sums up the basics of what happened, allowing the reader to fill in the logical blanks. For example, an unwieldy piece of dialogue that tries to impart too many details:

“I’m just glad the trial ended last week, and he was convicted. Now he’s been sentenced to life without parole. Still, it’s not enough!”

Here’s a better way, pumping up the emotion while slipping in the main info:

“Life without parole.” She aimed a bitter look out the window. “It’s too good for him.”

The facts that the trial is over and he was convicted are made obvious in those first three words.

3. Narrative. It’s really easy to do too much of this, so when I use it, I try to write really tightly, making every word count, and again, not detailing more information than I have to. The narrative is in the form of the POV character’s thoughts. I try to break up these passages, moving from action to conversation to a bit of narrative, back to conversation, etc. I try to structure the conversation into beats that will lead naturally to the character thinking about some aspect of the story that needs to be resolved. For example, let’s say the above bit of dialogue was spoken to the POV character. And one of the unresolved pieces of information is the number crimes for which the guy was convicted. The POV character then might respond:

“Yes, it is.”

She sank into a chair, exhausted, sick at heart. Feeling more frail than ever. If only they could have proved the second murder. He’d have gotten death. And death was what he deserved.

Sometimes to impart a lot of information I’ve structured a portion of the scene around a TV show about the case, or around characters reading a newspaper article. These techniques can work—again, as long as the scene focuses on the characters and their interaction and emotions, not the show or article itself.

Of course, some pieces of information can be effectively worked into the crisis/climax. An obvious one is the answer to who-dun-it. And in the midst of the action, you might be able to weave in a few bits of dialogue that will show the bad guy’s motivation behind the crime, or will show how he accomplished some bit of legerdemain. Just don’t slow the action to do this! Weave in only what’s natural, and save the rest for the resolution.

Hope I’ve made a modicum of sense on this topic. Anybody out there with feedback? Follow-up questions?


Sally Bradley said...

Brandilyn, I thought you explained it fine. Very helpful. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Stuart said...

You've done a fine job of explaining :) Didn't feel too vague to me.

Lots of good advice and insight :)

Now to take it all and look at my last chapter and mutate it to fit within the genre and styling of having one story that spans multiple books. :)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

With your statement yesterday that suspense is plot-driven...would you give the rest of the genre divisions and whether they're plot or character driven?

This discussion has really given me a lot of info...as usual!
Thanks Brandilyn.

Sabrina L. Fox said...

Your example was very good. It made it very easy to see what you were talking about.

Gina said...

These posts are very timely. I have my final scene in my head and I'm thinking about how I'll wrap up all the loose ends. Thanks for sharing your experience and wisdom with us.

Pammer said...

This helps out immensely. Timely too. I needed this right now. :0)