WEEK 10: PART 2: RESOLUTION
- write or plan your climax, ensuring it hits all the emotional beats to maximise the impact on your reader
- resolve all the story strands set-up in the novel and potentially leave it open for a sequel (if it’s part of a series)
In story, the resolution is the part of the story’s plot where the main problem is resolved or worked out. The resolution occurs after the falling action and is typically where the story ends.
All conflicts are resolved, and all loose ends are tied up.
It may not seem like the most important part of your novel, but it’s really worth making sure this part gets the attention it deserves and needs. I have experienced that sense of dissatisfaction or frustration when I’ve read a book and the ending just doesn’t tie up everything – it can make a story that is so good in other ways really fall at that final hurdle, and so it’s important to really hold all those threads of story that you’ve dangled throughout to account and to bring them to a close, or at the very least, closed in terms of this story.
It’s worth also noting that many stories, and this is becoming more and more popular, especially in episodic television and series, to have a resolution, then a final image, or twist. This is a great device to use, especially if we’re looking to a sequel – I read a great example in Orphans of the Tide recently – but before this, we must do the work of closing the story just told.
This story drips in hints to the sequel as it goes, but before they set off on that journey, all of the loose ends from the story are tied and concluded. We leave with very few questions and an emotion that is a must for a reader: satisfaction.
And that leads me onto payoffs: these are an absolute must in the resolution, if they haven’t been delivered upon before. As you write a novel, you weave in and set-up many sub-plots and side-stories and sometimes events happen during the story which are not resolved or explained at the time.
This is the time to do this – your reader might have been hooked by that unusual voice guiding your protagonist early on towards their goal. But by the end of the novel, we really need the payoff of who this is, or what their motivation is, or something to satisfy that mystery and curiosity earlier.
Similarly, with side characters, who perhaps have their own smaller arcs, it’s important to remember they also need to have grown and a good place to show this, is also in the resolution, if not before.
Sometimes the payoff is on an event, or something that happened earlier in the story, that may have seemed insignificant at the time. And in some ways, these can be the biggest payoffs. Like finding a key in scene one, which turns out to open a door at the end of the novel to send our protagonist home, or something similar.
It’s like Chekhov’s gun:
“If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”
So, you might find that not only do you have to ensure you resolve everything, but you may have to go back and remove elements of the story that you are unable to resolve. I know this is common in the ‘Writing a Story in Reverse’ technique, which is quite popular amongst novelists.
And lastly, for me anyway, the most important element of our resolution is to ensure the biggest possible emotional impact.
How do we achieve this? By making sure that whatever has been achieved has come at some cost. Nothing should be won with no consequences. I always will remember that scene in LOTR, when Frodo ends up leaving the Shire, to sail off to the Grey Havens. He’s destroyed the One Ring, and brought peace to Middle-Earth, and while that’s a win, he himself has lost: his love for the Shire, his old self and the things he used to love. He is no longer content in the place he once called home and never believed he would have left in the first place.
So, yes, we resolve the actual plot, but we also have nice complete character arcs, but it’s also worth remembering that no win, no story, comes without some loss. There are always consequences, even when we win.
Make sure your characters get their’s.
Suggested Writing Task
List all of the key events and significant moments of the story.
Then look at each and try to see how you can ensure that you pay off on each of them. This doesn’t need to be in one scene, or in the main resolution, but do make sure you tick each of them off. Or consider if they need to be in the story.
When writing your main resolution scene – the one after your climax – try to picture your character at the start of the story; who were they? How did they respond to certain events and pressures? How have they changed and grown since then? Could you apply a similar pressure to them now, or expose them to a similar event, to show the contrast in their response, and subsequently their character growth in your story?
It is common for writers to use an epilogue in a story, perhaps if something can’t be fully resolved in that final scene or image in the resolution. It’s used in a variety of ways – sometimes to foreshadow the events of the next book, sometimes to look into the future of our characters and see what happened, to give a happily ever after (or not) feel to the ending.
Like a prologue, this will come down to writer’s choice and you’ll have to, as always, justify the use of an epilogue. It should exist for the story, to help bring readers to a satisfying conclusion, or to hook into the next book.