Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Story Resolutions

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?

More tomorrow.

Read Part 2


Tina Helmuth said...

I'm looking forward to what you have to say about resolutions. I have trouble with endings. And after reading today's blog, I think I went about my crisis/climax all wrong.

My WIP isn't as fast-paced and suspensful as your books, but it is driven by suspense. There are several action scenes, but now I realize that the closer I get to the end, the less action there is. And the climax/revelation of the Bad Guy takes place through a courtroom confession.

And I'm afraid the confession is detailed. When I tried to give the basics and let the rest be left to imagination, friends would say, "But you didn't tell us how or why this happened."

So, no pressure, but you need to solve my problem in tomorrow's post. ;o)

Unknown said...

Thanks, BC, very much looking forward to your teaching!

Stuart said...

Interesting timing,

Ran into this issue a bit in a critique group last night where my group read my climax chapter. At the end of it they said they wanted to see more. See things and hear explanations that nobody, not even the characters could know.

Had to assure them that much of what they were wanting would be adressed in the closing chapter. Though I have yet to see if they are totally satisfied. The nature of my story means that there are many minor questions that came up along the way that aren't totally answered simply because they can't be. At least not for those who want the answer spelled out for them.

In the end I prefer to let readers come to their own understanding of how everything fits together. I'm just not sure how many readers prefer that.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

I think some of this depends on the reader. I know, on any continuum of personality traits, I would fall on the far extreme of wanting closure. Other readers seem to thrive on open-ended solutions in which debates rage (did Scarlet and Rhett ever get back together?)

I guess my thinking is, any loose ends need to seem purposeful, not accidental, as if that strand or this just got lost in the mix

Add to that, with any book that I love, I actually hate to finish it. I don't want to leave that world, those characters because I like being there. So I kind of like lingering a bit, finding out what they thought of the whirlwind that stormed around them. I like "feeling safe" with them for a time before saying good-bye. Not everyone is like that--maybe most suspense readers are not.

I suppose the resolution should first of all fit the audience for which it is intended.


Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

I can't wait for tomorrow! This is one of the exact things I'm facing right now. I am learning by reading your books, but to have you explain would be awesome!

Lynette Sowell said...

This is exactly what I face. How to wrap it up and wind it down. I tried to have most of the questions answered going into the end, with only a few answers "confessed." Hopefully that way everything will make sense. Don't want to sound too much like "Scooby Doo Mysteries." :)

Dineen A. Miller said...

I can understand the finalé scene with the bad guy telling the details being bad, but if the details of the "crime" have already come out, and we're in this gun-drawn confrontation, can't some of the motivation come out if the villain turned out to be the one you thought was a victim too? Does that make sense? LOL!