Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Sometimes it’s tough resolving things.
Especially if you have (1) dozens of details to cover, and (2) insist on covering them in a believable, natural manner, and (3) want to cover them in as few pages as possible.
This is the issue I face at the end of my books. In my earlier women’s fiction stories, I didn’t have half the problem I do with my suspense novels. As a part of my “Seatbelt Suspense” mentality, I like to push the high action of the crisis/climax as close to the end of the book as possible. Collide, collide, bam-bam-bam, action to the last line of that penultimate chapter. (Or maybe the last chapter, if I use an epilogue.) Throughout the course of the book, I’ve done my best to take the reader through twists and turns of plot. The final answers to those puzzles are presented in the crisis/climax. But how everything happened that lead up to that point has still to be explained, plus what happens after the crisis/climax. Therein comes the resolution.
I particularly had a lot to resolve in the last two books I’ve finished—Web of Lies and Violet Dawn. Web of Lies, because of the convoluted twists of the story that need to be straightened out, and Violet Dawn, because so much happens between the crisis/climax and the resolution scene. How to summarize all that off-stage action in a compelling way?
The problem with resolutions is, one, they’re so easy to write as mere narration of facts; and two, by their very definition, they’re not conflict-oriented. But a scene without conflict is boring. And I sure don’t want to end my book on a boring note.
I’ve always disliked the bad-guy-with-the-gun-pointed-at-the-soon-to-die-hero-explaining-everything-before-he-shoots ending. First, because it’s false dialogue. The character is not really speaking to the other character; the author is speaking explanations to the reader. Bad, bad, bad. Second, it stops the action in the crisis/climax to explain details. Another bad. The crisis/climax is not the place for details. It’s the place for action. I will weave in a little explaining in the crisis/crimax, but only in tiny bits. Only if it’s a perfectly natural bit of conversation or epiphany of the hero/heroine during the action.
Most of the details I leave to the last chapter/epilogue. I don’t have a written list of all the details I need to cover. They’re all shouting pretty loudly in my head by that point. Still, I’ll usually write the ending, and as I read over it a couple of times, another point will come to mind. Problem is, there’s just so doggone many different kinds of details to wrap up in my suspense stories. They can include (1) motivation for the crimes, (2) how they were committed, (3) personal issues for the characters, including character arcs, (4) events following the crisis/climax, and (5) spiritual thread. And each of these five main areas can encompass dozens of information bits.
Another kind of ending I dislike is when the author leaves the wrap-up details for the resolution, but again makes the “false conversation” mistake by basically having two characters sit around and explain to each other how everything came about, and what happened after the bad guy was caught. Again, this tends to sound very unnatural. And there’s no real scene—only the shell of one.
So how to write a resolution that will satisfy the reader? That covers all the necessary details—within the aura of a compelling final scene? And just how much needs to be told to the reader, anyway? Does everything have to be laid out in full explanation? Or can we present the needed details and allow the reader to come to his own understanding of how they all fit together?
Read Part 2