Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Nouement or Conflict vs. Complication

Another point, thought it seems almost too obvious to state: what makes [Sue] Miller's novel [Lost In the Forest] suspenseful is that she doesn't just work through her opening situation. Instead, she keeps adding narrative complications, which is how a novel that appears to be about grief and the possibility of remarriage shifts to become a novel about how divorce and loss affect children as they grow.

With fiction, it's not enough just to present a troubling situation and resolve it; you need to up the ante. You need complication . . . In my fiction writing textbook's diagram of Freitag's triangle, there are little "x"s on the rising slope of Freitag's triangle. These are "complications," the nouement, or "knotting up," of the ground situation.

All of this is very basic, and yet I read a lot of fiction that doesn't really knot up as it proceeds. It might deepen characterization and beautifully develop theme, but it doesn't up the ante. Instead, it presents the conflict and resolution. And the conflict basically stays the same throughout the story, which lends a certain predictability to a tale. Even if we don't know the end, we know if the couple is going to resolve their problems or not; if the mother is going to stay with the jerky boyfriend or figure out a way to leave, and so on. What makes Miler's work suspenseful is that she keeps changing her novel's underlying situation; the conflict isn't the same on the first and last pages. The conflict has--as conflicts in life do--developed.

Debra Spark. "And Then Something Happened." The Writer's Chronicle. October/November 2007. pg. 81.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.