Thursday, December 16, 2010

Satisfying resolutions

I'm struggling quite a bit with the problem of how to resolve a story. (Still working on the so-called "false peak" section that I've been stuck on for a few weeks, so there's still the real resolution to come.) I've taken a run at it several times and am having trouble with coming up something that seems right.

Intellectually, I know what the ingredients must include, though there is probably some other required ingredient I don't know about. It has to involve an externally manifested action taken by the main character that resolves not only her external problems (e.g. the bear at the door) but resolves the internal issues that she is struggling with and that complicates her ability to deal with things. I think it also ought to -- or at least I want it to -- be an action that has some kind of resonance with the thematic issues of the story. It should also be visually vivid and surprising without feeling unrealistic or unfair or unearned -- like it is playing by the rules of the game set up earlier.

That's a lot of for one little moment to accomplish. I can' intellectualize it and I can describe how any given solution I've come up with is lacking some ingredient. But I have trouble imagining the right solution.

And imagining is what it takes. That's where the missing ingredient lies. Coming up with some fantastic vivid image. The slipper going on to the foot. Romeo tipping the poison back down his throat.

I think in my case I have an additional complication that's difficult to explain without giving away too much of the story. First off, it can't be the hero slaying the dragon, because the enemy resembles the hero too much. It can't be the hero winning a contest of wills or power against another fighter because in the rules of the world I've set up, the solution rests on disarming the opponent but there is no way to disarm them without disarming yourself. (That probably doesn't sound like it makes any sense. I hope it would if I was willing to tell more about the story.) In any case, I need a resolution with all those characteristics above and that work in the narrow space allowed by the rules I've set up.

It's probably the internal conflict part that interests me most. To my mind, the most satisfying stories don't just solve the internal conflict cut arise from the internal conflict. It's a two-way street. The internal struggle up to this point, while being a complication and an obstacle, also yields insights and resources that, if realized, become useful in the final resolution. If the character hadn't been dealing with that internal conflict, then they wouldn't have what they need to slay the dragon. I guess I can't think of any perfect examples of that right now, but it's still the ideal resolution for me, at least in the abstract.

One other idea that I think is relevant to this . . . Toni Morrison talks in one of her interviews about how if she has the key metaphor for her story that's all she needs to get it going and get it written. Just hold that metaphor in her mind. That idea has been on my mind this week. I feel like I need some kind physical manifestation of my story's themes. Some talisman that shows up at key moments, including at the resolution. The sword or the golden chalice would do that in a typical romance. Like when Harry Potter gets hold of the philosopher's stone or Tom Riddle's diary or a specific sword or whatever.

So I've been writing the equivalent of a master's degree thesis on these problems all week trying to figure out how to end the story, how to set up that ending, how to seed the book so that the ending bears the right fruit. I don't think I've come up with anything as ideal as I outlined here, but I've got an improvement. I think I know what the talisman could be. I've written another version of the ending that I'll read over and think about in the next couple days. And then we'll see.

About 2,500 words of new material. (And I ought to get credit for about 4 times that much of note taking and brainstorming and character sketching to help me break through.)

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