Friday, September 11, 2009

Resolution scenes

In more character-driven books (where the internal journey of the main character is important), the final scene isn't just a way to ease out of the story, but an essential last chance to show how the internal conflict is resolved in some actual but symbolic action. This is why the final scene (after the climax) is often called "the resolution scene," because it shows the resolving of the internal conflict. (The scene doesn't RESOLVE the internal conflict-- that's done through the process of the entire plot-- but this is your chance to show in some concrete and yet symbolic way that the conflict is resolved and that has some measurable effect on her life.)

BUT... it probably helps to think this scene through and make sure you've set this event up and aren't undercutting the significance.

For example: Let's say you see Joan's journey as something like "alienation to reconciliation". The final scene might be her visiting her mother's grave-- see? Reconciled to Mom.
However, if she has been going to Mom's grave every year on Mom's birthday, this gesture loses its force. You've undercut the power of it in your setup... yes, even if you make a big point that this is NOT Mom's birthday. Come on, "Visiting Mom's grave on June 20 instead of July 19" doesn't show a real journey ending.

But if she's been unable to go to Mom's grave at all, out of guilt or anger or whatever, then her going to the grave at the end will show a real change.

Let's try another. I'm a sucker for stories where a cynic is reminded of the importance of whatever by association with an innocent. So here's a scenario:
A handsome and cynical rogue of a space pirate (sigh... you cannot believe how many of my buttons just that description pushes) has won a pretty little ship in a cardgame. He won it from, I don't know, the fellow that built the ship, or something that indicates a deeper connection between the first owner and the ship than Pirate has. (Makes me wonder why the original owner gambled it away then... but that's another story.)

Innocent youngster stows away on the ship. He/she is being chased by bad guys. But his/her innocence, though a subject of amusement to Pirate, ends up winning the day, and Pirate ends up less cynical because of exposure to the blushing naif.

Final scene after bad guys are thwarted: Pirate says, "I'm giving the ship back to the original owner."
Now see how this loses force if he says (and it's true), "I always planned to give the ship back after this voyage." That means that the exposure to the innocent and the events of the plot didn't change him. He's just following through with the planned return of the ship.

But let's change that. He NEVER meant to give the ship back. He was going to use it to secure his fortune and fame as a pirate. But then, after exposure, etc., he has changed. In the last scene, he turns the ship around (and notice that an actual action towards giving it back is going to be stronger than him just saying he'll give it back), and says, "Okay. It's his ship. I'm taking it back to him."

That is, set this up so it's a real change in his plans, in what he thought he was going to do, in what the man he used to be (when the story opened) would have done. Only then will the resolution event have the symbolic significance of the end of the journey.

And I want to stress again that this should be An Event-- an action on his part, not just a thought or change in attitude or decision or avowal, but an action that concretely shows that. Not "I love Mom again," but going to Mom's grave. Not "I'll give back the ship," but turning the ship around and heading for the owner's home planet.

Now one question: If you were writing this, would you go back and make it clear that he had cheated in the card game to win the ship? Or would you have it be that he won it fair and square? (No right answer here-- just your thoughts on which would work better from your perspective.)



Jordan said...

Interesting question on the cheating! I could see it working both ways—either the innocent has so reformed a cheating gambler that he wants to make things right, or he's a fair-and-square kind of rogue who's so reformed that he wants to return something that's legitimately his just because it feels like the right thing to do.

But in those terms, I think the first one sounds a bit stronger.

word verification:kistsmis. Isn't that a holiday?

Leona said...

I write science fiction... Seems I've been given the keys to Alicia's editorial heart - I have grammar and rogue space pirates :D

Seriously, though, this is a very good point for those of us ending our story. I think we sometimes forget to finish as strong as we start.

I've read a lot of books where the end feels like a cop out. Idk if it's a deadline or if they are tired of the MS, but either way, I feel cheated. Thanks for that reminder.

Steven Brant said...

I'd want to know how much he gambled to win the ship. For example:
1) Was it a nonissue -- he had a straight flush and was positive he'd win the hand?
2) Or was he drawing to an inside straight because he so desperately -- at the time -- wanted it.
3) Or was it the thrill of competition? He didn't much care what the prize was, but he was convinced he knew the original owner's "tell" and could bluff him out with a pair of jacks?

Each, in combination with his journey towards returning the ship, would tell us something different about the character of the pirate.

For me, since he's a rogue learning about innocence, I'd work with #3.

Wes said...

The character's arc would be greater if he had cheated. After all, he is a pirate.

Edittorrent said...

"Idk if it's a deadline or if they are tired of the MS, but either way, I feel cheated."

Yeah, and it actually doesn't take much. You have to have a final scene anyway, so just thinking of an action that will show character growth or journey end will do that.

Craven said...

Of course he cheated. He's a pirate. And to have the contrast you are looking for as far as transformation is concerned, he should go from win-at-all-cost to noble.

It's not a big transformation if he won it fair and square.

Petronella said...

I'm wondering why anyone would gamble away a spaceship.

Agree with those who say the pirate cheating to win the ship is the best way to go. As far as I know pirates are not famous for their honesty.

Am also wondering what the innocent stowaway does to turn the pirate from a cynic to a good-hearted fellow, who is willing to return the spaceship to its original owner.

At the rate I'm going I'll be writing this story just so I know what happened before the ending LOL

Leona said...

Petronella - I was thinking same thing LOL I'm starting to picture this pirate with dark, wavy hair that is as unruly as he is.

Edittorrent said...

I keep envisioning Han Solo...

Yes, I see that cheating would be a good way to go. :)


Unknown said...

I'm with all the cheaters ;)

Jami Gold said...


Thanks for this post! I just had an epiphany about my WIP. :) For months, I've been concerned about the fact that I have a chapter-long "denouement" and 3 epilogue-ish scenes after my "climax". However, I just realized that my "climax" is actually only the climax for the external conflict. What I had been calling the "denouement" is actually the climax of the
internal conflict. And what I had been considering "epilogues" are actually the resolution for the internal conflict. I don't know if this is normal, usual, or how well it works, but I feel better about there being so much stuff after the external conflict's "black moment". :)

Those scenes all involve choices and actions following up on those choices. And yes, I would consider my WIP to be a character-focused (yet plot-driven) story.

Jami G.

Edittorrent said...

Just don't head the end with "epilogue" unless it's a true epilogue. Epilogues, like prologues, have a bad reputation. :)

Jami Gold said...

Hi Alicia,

Nope, I didn't title it "Epilogue". :) It has a normal chapter title. The only reason that I say they're "epilogue-ish" is because they have a slice-of-life after the main events feel (similar to an epilogue), however, each of the scenes are real scenes showing additional pieces of the character's journey/resolution.

Jami G.

Riley Murphy said...


I'd set this story up that he cheated (because, like everyone else says - he's a freaking Pirate) but I would handle his deceptive tactics to a point, as I think there's a fine line to be drawn between a cheater that's understood and redeemable and one that’s not.
So, my hero would have gotten into a card game by cheating because when he first sits down there's real nasty guys who deserved to lose whatever they stake (it's clear that they’re cheating their asses off) - so, my hero would hold his own until the innocent mark enters and sits down and winds up anting up - his spaceship as the stakes are that high. The hero can't very well say you're going to be cheated and he can't very well let the bad guys win and even though he feels sorry for the poor bastard, having that ship would be great, so he continues to cheat with no other available choice open for him. This would give me a lot of internal conflict later to work with - especially when he's just feeling really bad about stealing the ship out from underneath the presumable 'good guy' and he discovers the 'innocent' who really can't remember how she got on board - so was the guy a good guy or wasn't he? *Shrug* something like that.

Now that I think about it? There could be a parallel drawn between how the heroine wound up on the ship - like say, the original owner had discovered something bad was going to happen to her and he intervened without her knowledge - um, drugging her space juice and secreting her onto his ship so that later, he could return her to her family - but he gets challenged to play in a game of cards first (he's a poker champ and thinks he's going to win) so no problem - but he loses to the hero. In both cases you have two men who are justifying their decisive actions in a backhanded manner. The hero thinking he’s better off winning the ship because he’s bad but not nearly as bad as the other Pirates at the table and you have the innocent mark who thinks there’s nothing wrong with drugging a woman for her own good because he’s determined what’s best for her without her knowledge - so, both men deserve to lose something. The innocent mark: his ship for a time - and the hero who will, of course (if I were writing this), lose the heroine for a time, so that each man can grow and understand through lose what’s really important to them.

Just my .02

Julie Harrington said...

{pokes head in}

Murphy, I was in the same boat (or should that be ship?) as you with pondering the balancing act between "true to character" ala a cheating pirate and likeability. I was leaning toward winning honestly myself. But if you give him the right motivation to make cheating "honorable" or understandable? I could go for that. Long as I under the why of it... Of course that's what I think is important and often overlooked in a lot of stories. The Logic and motivation of actions.


Unknown said...

Murph, that’s a great solution to the issue I had about how bad is too bad. Like JT I was having a problem trying to figure out how the hero could cheat and still be liked/redeemed in the story. Your idea solves the motivation issue. I also like the parellel idea.

Charlotte said...

Hm... I think my pirate wouldn't have cheated, so he could have been indignant at any suggestion of restitution (including in his inner dialogue). I would probably have him have a temptation of giving it back from fairly early on, but the devil on his shoulder would win the argument until he had changed enough that the angel on the other shoulder would triumph.
My reason - I don't trust characters who change too radically. Incremental change, sure. Getting back in touch with a suppressed part of one's personality, absolutely. Total conversion... Well, I guess there's a reason I'm an agnostic :)

Charlotte said...

Wow, that was terrible English. I'm sorry, I should be re-reading myself when posting so late, especially here!

Edittorrent said...

Charlotte, don't worry-- we don't proof comments around here. :)

I think that rogues can't start out less than heroic-- that is why they're rogues. So I don't know, Murph, I'd need the other guys to be bad or the rogue to have some "good" reason for being bad... but you know, I'm the one who started writing a rogue hero who was stealing money, and by chapter 2, it had become he was stealing money to help the orphaned children of his best friend who died in his arms at Waterloo. I was going to throw in a kitten in need of rescue too... I'm really not good at being bad. :) I can tell you're bad at that too!

"Bad at being bad"-- we should start a support group!

I like the idea that he would play fair and then be indignant (great word!) at the notion of restitution--"Hey! I didn't even cheat this time!"

Riley Murphy said...

Loss of a loved one.
Orphaned children.
An animal in peril...go on, I'm taking notes. :D

Wes said...

This is way off topic, but what the heck. Saturday I reread THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. After studying writing a bit I have a far greater appreciation of the book. It is a masterpiece, as one would expect from a winner of the Pulitzer. The first twenty pages or so were a little too simplistic for me, but after that he plied his craft masterfully.

Hemingway's characterization was great, even developing the nature of the fish. But for me, the finest techniques he employed were in creating conflict and tension. Every couple of pages he amped up the tension. No bad for having only one character. Two if you count the marlin.

Wes said...

The resolution scene was well done too.

Edittorrent said...

Well, there was the boy back in the town...

"Man against fish"-- great novels were written about that. :)

Sierra Godfrey said...

Excellent post and timely for myself as I spent all weekend thinking until my head hurt about climax and resolution.

Would love to see a post about climax (aka Black Moment).

Joel Q said...

But, I think there needs to be some history between the pirate and the ship builder/owner.

Wes said...

I've been reading your old posts on character and characters to learn more about characterization. Any time you feel like writing more, please do so.

Edittorrent said...

Oh, I don't have a dog (just a completely untrainable cat), but I was scanning a book on training dogs, and I thought it was applicable to characters too... maybe a post on "training a character the dog way." Or "The character whisperer."

Wes said...

Many books state that writers should cause readers to pull for the MC. Well, duh......but few books if any discuss how to do it. I can see some obvious ones such as being an underdog, having a noble cause, being a likable guy/gal, having a lot to lose, but what are some other specific techniques?

Jami Gold said...


Our own Jordan has a PDF file on her website of this very thing. - Creating Character Sympathy

Jami G.

Wes said...

Great. Thanks, Jami. Just read it. And I'm surprised to see Alicia cited prominantly. Good article. Can't wait to check out the links.

Wes said...

Make than "not surprised to see Alicia cited prominantly". (It's late and I'm still at work and fading.)