Thursday, October 30, 2008

Climax and resolution--another try

As soon as I finished up for the day yesterday I knew I needed to take another try at the ending. It has a basic flaw in it still, inherent from the moment of the book's conception, that I haven't been able to--or really taken the time--to put my finger on. When I started my main goal was to just get enough material down with enough sensible relationship to the rest that I could claim to have a beginning, middle and end of a book-length fiction. I didn't let any standards of excellence in the craft slow me down, at least in the first draft. In the two rewrites so far, I've let them slow me down a little, but I've postponed really grappling with the problems in the ending.

The problems in the ending I think are inherent in the beginning, and according to Jane Smiley, whose Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Novel I'm re-reading yet again, says that just in the nature of novels. Part of the art of novel writing is faking your way through that.

So, in my case, I think it's unsatisfying ending because, as much as I dress it up with a lot of activity so the reader won't notice, it still boils down to the antagonist or other outside forces (there have been a few versions now) taking the action that solves the protagonist's problem. Or the most basic problem anyway. One way I hid that was to have my protagonist take charge of other less essential problems. What the story needs is really simple now that I've taken some time to think it through a little more carefully--for my main character to take an action, consistent with the character I've portrayed him as, especially in the ways he has changed as a result of events so far, to confront the antagonist on their primary conflict and either defeat him or be defeated. The final conflict has to be about who the characters essentially are.

The problem I'm having is one that I hope is a problem I'm supposed to have. It would be very difficult--close to incredible--for my character to win in this circumstance. Otherwise there wouldn't be any suspense. It wouldn't be a real plot. Put another way, it would be a conflict that's out of balance. If he's going to win, I have to build up the possibility of that. L. Rust Hills talks about the inevitability of retrospect, by which he means if you view the plot from beginning to end you see all these possibilities, but if you view it from end to beginning, you should see a path from the beginning that inevitably led you to this point. It takes really delicate work to pull that off--to stack up the odds and to get your reader to believe that your character could survive them anyway.

So last night and this morning I worked on really trying to imagine a solution--an action my character could take that would work to solve his problem and that would be believable without being predictable. And in alignment with the character and other thematic problems of the book that I've layed out--and in alignment with the other subplots which all get resolved in ways that interconnected with this issue. I don't want those sand castles to crumble while I'm doing the patch job on this one.

I used a few different tools to get the creativity going for me. One is just talking with my wife. She's very familiar with the story, so we could really bat it around together. Another one is freewriting--just laying the fingers on the keys and talking out loud. Last was my acting out method, which I've referenced before. I don't want to give away what actually happens in my story, but if you imagine a character hiding in a closet or something, I was essentially doing something like that this morning, putting myself where the characters would be and trying to live it--picturing what they might be feeling or saying. It would be a riot to witness, I'm sure, but it really helps.

And then I forced myself to sit down and draft it. It really only amounts to a couple hundred new words, but it changes everything about the ending. It does solve the problem of my character taking an active role and is therefore more satisfyying. Whether it's credible and therefore wholly satisfying or not is not as clear. My wife read it and thinks it needs work, and I'm sure she's right.

But for now I'm happy that I've devised a much better ending that I can massage some more over time. I'm looking forward to the next editing stage.

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