All tales must end…and of course, so must our study of the Art of Narrative! Today’s final post of the series focuses on—you guessed it—resolution.
For the last several posts I’ve explored the narrative, starting with point of view, then leading into the stages of the narrative arc, from exposition to conflict and rising action, then to climax and falling action—and just like the end of any narrative, this final piece is designed to tie everything together in a cohesive fashion.
So what exactly forms the resolution stage of a story? Often referred to as the dénouement (from the french word desnouer which means “to untie”), the resolution typically starts during the falling action stage to carry the reader through the narrative’s end. All conflicts are resolved, and the action slows while the characters’ lives return to normal (or close to it). Here the plot tension boils down, the protagonist having faced the conflict and changed the course of his/her life or situation, and thus leaving the reader with a sense of peace or catharsis.
Two alternate situations can occur in the resolution stage. In the case of a quick resolution or a more catastrophic ending, the reader may not feel a sense of closure at all, the narrative’s finale meant to draw a more shocked reaction from him or her. In other narratives such as serial fiction, the author may have used more of a cliffhanger technique to end the story in a moment of suspense or ambiguity designed to draw the reader forward. However, even cliffhangers usually have a resolution of the current plot, leaving the reader satisfied yet questioning of what’s to come.
In this post, I brought back the image of the narrative arc that I originally showed my Freshmen English classes—where I drew the resolution stage higher than the exposition stage. This change in height represents a character’s growth because, good or bad, the protagonist tends to undergo some sort of change throughout the course of the narrative. This is the very reason we keep reading—we want to see what’s going to happen, how the protagonist will face and address the issue, and what will result from the choices he or she makes. Every once in a while, we come across a book in which the character didn’t change at all; this experience can at times be disappointing, for what did we learn if the character ends up exactly where he or she started?
While readers look forward to the change of the protagonist in the narrative, we as writers naturally tend to write toward some sort of conclusion (even if it’s ugly or our characters barely change). But what about those times we want to convey a character hasn’t changed? Is it possible to provide a resolution without actually showing any character growth?
Can you think of a book you’ve read where nothing changes, and yet you still felt closure on the story? In those that I’ve read, I’ve usually chucked the book across the room—yes, literally. What about you? Please share below.
Thank you for following my journey through the Art of Narrative! It’s a concept we all use in crafting stories…and now that I’ve exposed everything behind the curtain, I think it’s time to close it to work the [not so secret] magic behind it again. [She says, rubbing her hands together. *Buah-ah-ah!*]
Happy reading and writing to everyone, and have a great weekend!
October 20th, 2012 at 7:14 am
Great question…I’ve actually read books where the characters seem to have gone backwards. In other words, they start off on the right path and seem to spiral downward towards the end, and then never really pick up where they left off. I wouldn’t call satisfying, but I suppose it’s technically some kind of resolution. They say a satisfying story goes full circle, the character undergoes a transformation, etc. And then of course there are those who blatantly break those rules. Me, personally? I believe characters should change. I believe they should spiral out of control and rise back up. That’s just me though…great series. Love going back to the basics.
October 29th, 2012 at 6:53 am
I agree with you, also–character growth is key for me. Even if it’s minor, I want to see change. Thanks for commenting, Katherine!