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The Art of Narrative, Part Five (Finale): Resolution

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!

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The Art of Narrative, Part Four: Climax and Falling Action

It’s been a long intermission, but…welcome back to the Art of Narrative! Today we’ll continue our series of posts dedicated to the exploration of narrative craft.

Before discussing the next stages—climax and falling action—I’d like to briefly revisit the parts covered so far. First was the narrative arc itself, as well as the four main types of point of view—first person, second person, third person limited, and third person omniscient. (Click here to read about point of view types.) Next we discussed exposition, which included setting, character details, and mood. (Read about exposition here.) After that followed a segment on the three types of conflict—man against man, man against nature, and man against self—and the secondary conflicts that occur in the rising action stage (read more on conflict and rising action here).

So now that we’ve met the scene and the characters, in addition to the issues our protagonist must face as the stakes are raised—where does all this action inevitably lead?

To the climax, of course! It is the moment the reader anticipated for the entire narrative, the actual peak of the reading adventure where our protagonist’s conflict culminates and he or she is forced to face the issue head on. Good or bad, the climax serves as a true turning point for the story—and for this reason it becomes the most dramatic piece of the journey. Here the story brims with all the tension, intensity, and action necessary for the protagonist to find a solution.

In some cases, an author may choose the route of an anti-climax, providing a seemingly trivial solution to a significant conflict. This choice is sometimes employed to add humor to the narrative, but in other situations might be the result of poor planning (or the discovery that the original solution no longer works for the story). Readers often have mixed feelings on the employment of the anti-climax, which may or may not lead into the next stage of the narrative arc: falling action.

The falling action stage represents the series of events that will help the protagonist address the climax aftermath. In short, it is a slow unraveling of the conflict. In the case of an anti-climax, this stage might be missing entirely or may not wrap the story up as coherently as the reader might hope.

Either way, the falling action stage ultimately leads the narrative to its resolution. Stay tuned for the final installment of the Art of Narrative series, when we’ll explore this more fully.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts on pieces that intentionally use an anti-climax? In stories that follow the traditional narrative path, do you prefer a quick tie-up in the falling action, or a more extended run before the resolution of the tale? Please share your thoughts below!

And of course, happy reading! 🙂


The Art of Narrative, Intermission (The Tease)

Happy Monday, everyone!

As you may know, I’ve been focusing a series of blog posts on the Art of Narrative. So far, we’ve covered point of view, exposition, and the conflict and rising action. Next up: climax. Except for one small catch…

The next episode of Third Thursday Flash is this Thursday, creating an awkward break in our examination of the narrative path. Because of this, I thought it best to call a brief intermission in our series.

While you take advantage of this time to stretch out your legs, grab some popcorn, and prepare for the next stage of the narrative arc, don’t forget that you still have until 8 p.m. PST tonight to submit any idea (a theme, words, intro sentence, or general topic) that you’d like me to use to craft a 500 to 1,000 word piece for Third Thursday Flash. Please send your idea to evariederauthor@gmail.com, and thanks for participating!

As for the narrative arc—what better place to pause than right before the peak? We’ll resume with The Art of Narrative, Part Four: Climax on Monday, and until then, I leave you with… ***Click here!***

🙂


The Art of Narrative, Part Three: Conflict and Rising Action

Just a reminder—the idea submission call for next week’s Third Thursday Flash is open until 8 p.m. PST on Monday the 8th. Please send a theme, words, intro sentence, or topic idea that you’d like me to work into a 500 to 1,000 word piece to evariederauthor@gmail.com.

And now…welcome back to the Art of Narrative, Part Three. For the last week I’ve been posting about narrative form, starting with point of view and the first stage of the narrative arc: exposition. Next up is conflict and rising action.

Life is full of complications, and in narrative, these struggles are what shift our protagonist into action. While an assortment of setting elements, character details, and a general mood launch a story, all of a sudden a conflict will break us from the exposition and carry us into the rising action stage.

Conflicts of all sorts occur in narrative writing, but they tend to fall in one of the following categories:

Man Against Man—Here the protagonist must overcome an obstacle with another being. In a crime or suspense novel, this antagonist could take the form of an evil-doer or serial killer (such as Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs). In a romance, the antagonist might be a dismissive love interest or someone competing for that special someone’s heart. In a fictional biography, drama, or action, the conflict can arise with a friend gone astray, an overbearing boss, or some other opposing person (like King Claudius in Hamlet, for example).

Krishna kills Aghasura
(Aghasura acts as the antagonist, the conflict that Krishna must overcome)

Variations on this theme exist as well; man against society requires the protagonist to address issues with societal views or culture as a whole (Orwell’s 1984 is a great example). Meanwhile, man against supernatural or man against machine is more prevalent in horror, sci-fi, and fantasy novels, such as is the case in Brave New World.

Man Against Nature—In this conflict type, the protagonist must overcome an obstacle posed by a natural force. This may come in the form of a sinking ship, a stroke of lightning, or even an attack by bears. A recent example of this conflict type is in Aron Ralston’s 127 Hours: Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

Man against fate is sometimes considered another version of this category; an example is Sophocles’s Oedipus the King.

Man Against Self—This conflict style is an internal one, forcing the protagonist to face an obstacle of his or her own making. These center around faith, ethics, or beliefs, and can also contain themes of addiction, self-destruction, or pain. An example of this style is in one of my favorite books of all time—Crank, by Ellen Hopkins, a young adult tale written in free verse about a teen who must overcome her drug addiction.

Once a narrative introduces conflict, the arc continues into the rising action stageHere, secondary conflicts begin to appear. They may take the form of lesser adversaries, or alternate antagonists. They may work with or against the story’s main conflict, but the issue is the same: they create more obstacles for the protagonist to overcome in order to reach his or her goal.

I’ve heard over the years that a traditional novel contains three main conflicts, often a merging of internal (man versus self) and external (man versus man or man versus nature). Looking back at some of my favorite tales, I can actually see three clear conflicts emerging for the protagonists in the rising action stage. This is certainly not true for all of them, and definitely not for short stories, but it is an interesting theory.

Do you notice three main conflicts in your favorite books? What about in your own writing?

Also, I’d love to know what conflict style captures your attention most. I’ve always been a fan of man against man, since I enjoy the complexities of varied personalities clashing and working together (or overcoming one another). What about you?

Thanks for continuing with me on the art of narrative journey, and please share your thoughts on conflict types in the comment section below!


Hacksaws, FRINGE, and Some Darn Good Books

One of the upsides to my current once-a-week blog schedule is that I’m finding myself stocked up on things to talk about! Picture me as the little kid with my cheeks poofed, holding my breath all week long to say something… 🙂

First item: Hacksaws

A hacksaw would be the metaphorical utility I’m using to edit the crap out of Kyresa. Somehow I’m still working on it (!), but I’m having a good time. I noticed at some point that Kyresa had started sighing too much. They say some of your traits appear in your characters, and I’m a sigher in real life—less because I’m a romantic than because I tend to over-analyze and think too hard—but this is clearly not an acceptable trait for a powerful, immortal Queen. Nope, nope, nope. So, we had a long pep talk, and now she’s a much stronger character. Phew!

I’d also like to share this nifty editing software my friend passed along, SmartEdit, which helps you track overused words, phrases, adverbs, etc. You name it, this program will find your errors and blow your mind with your redundancies. The catch? It only runs on PCs. I myself run on a Mac platform, but fortunately my netbook is a PC, so after a few file transfers…boom! I learned that my real-life tendency to smile all the time is getting a little old in my characters. “Find and replace” is currently my best friend, and I’m delighted to report that so far, between an ending change, some general cleanup, and my recent obsession with tightening up my manuscript, I’ve cut Kyresa from 111,400 words down to 98,400! I’m not done yet, but I’m thrilled with this progress. THRILLED.

Second item: FRINGE

I am fairly intrinsically motivated, but I like a good reward on occasion. My latest “gift” has been one episode of Fringe a night after I reach my editing quota. At 22 episodes per season and four episodes to catch up on, you might imagine this has taken me an extraordinarily long time—it has! But it’s been such a great reward, and now I can’t wait for the fifth and final season to start in the fall!

If you haven’t checked out this incredibly intelligent Sci-Fi series, please do. I’ve talked to a couple people who said they started but couldn’t get into it, and it’s my belief that Fringe takes a few (read: four or five) episodes to get completely sucked in—unless you’re a Sci-Fi person, in which case I suspect you’ll be in by Episode 2. Fringe follows the FBI’s Fringe Division, a super secret department responsible for solving unusual and otherworldly cases. They might involve radically unknown toxins, strange disasters, shape shifters and DNA mutations, telepathy, or even trips to another universe! In fact, there’s a whole element of this other universe flowing beautifully through Fringe, and it’s quite fascinating. What’s thrilling about this show is that it’s not just about the Sci-Fi elements (which are indeed spectacular) but also about the dynamic between the four main characters. Anna Torv plays Olivia Dunham, a uniquely talented FBI agent who partners with an offbeat genius scientist, Walter Bishop (played by John Noble) and his wickedly clever son, Peter (played by Joshua Jackson). Jasika Nicole plays Astrid Farnsworth, a big-hearted FBI agent who assists Walter in his research. Walter and Peter Bishop have a touching father-son relationship, which is complicated by a serious faux-pas Walter committed in the past. It is this very faux-pas that creates many of the Sci-Fi elements of the series (that I cannot describe without giving away the geniusness of this show), and which forces them to work through several definite tangles. Meanwhile, Astrid and Walter have a kind closeness, sharing some really lovely moments as she helps him—a once-committed, wild scientist—work through the cases. Anna Torv as Olivia is the most complex of all; she’s a strong agent who works through the cases with ease, but she must also shuffle through the trauma of her youth which makes her so essential to these cases. At first she comes off a bit flat, but as you go through the series—wow. Her range proves to be completely astounding as the story unfolds. As-tound-ing!

Add a little romance, some good special effects, and a bit of clever dialogue to these stellar characters and you have one of my favorite shows of all time. The only negative thing I can say is that the show ends after season 5. Boo!

Third Item: Darn Good Books

I finished a book and started a book this week. Currently, I’m about 100 pages into Stephen King’s On Writing, and it’s great. I can’t wait to share more after I’m done!

The book I finished is preparation for the fall semester, when I become the Math-English teaching hybrid. (I feel a Sci Fi story here. Truly.) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is well-written and sweet, and narrated by Christopher John Francis Boone. Christopher is an autistic teen who leads you through his investigation of the “curious incident,” one that also happens to carry through the relationship between him and his father, as well as the connection between his parents. Christopher is an intelligent young man, and Haddon’s portrayal of his eccentricities is pure brilliance. Haddon worked with autistic individuals in his past, and his empathy shows on every page. Christopher is lovable, clever, and detailed, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in his adventure. It’s also a great experience to follow the mind of someone in his shoes—it really makes you reevaluate the way you look at the world. I highly recommend it!

All right, the little girl pushed her fingers into her cheeks, expelling all the intel she’d held for the week for this one information-packed blog post! 😉 Now time for some more editing.

Hacksaw at the ready!


Review of SUCCUBUS IN THE CITY, by Nina Harper

Almost two years ago, I wrote a short story about a succubus (which, by the way, I’ll soon be building into a full length novel—more details to come). Since I hadn’t read much fiction on the fascinating creatures, I took a perusal of good ole Amazon and found Succubus in the City, by Nina Harper. 

Though the style, context, and plot is far different from where I’m headed with my tale, I enjoyed Nina Harper’s take. Succubus in the City is actually the first book in a trilogy and follows the life—or rather, part of the long life—of Lily, a succubus living in New York. Spoiled as one of Satan’s chosen, Lily has a day job as an accessories editor for a fashion magazine, and a night job as a sex demon who delivers male souls to Hell. The book is a light, fun, and entertaining read, merging elements of Sex and the City, The Devil Wears Prada, and also the classic tale of the demon spawn that is a succubus—except this particular succubus wants to find love. Lily, it seems, can’t catch a break with men, since certain details of her demon contract put a damper on her dating life.

If this sounds hilarious, then you’ve caught the general feel of the book. It’s one part fashion, one part fantasy, one part romance, and two parts comedic sass. I couldn’t help but giggle at Lily’s plights, while also appreciating the gal-pal power that Harper weaves throughout the story. Lily’s closest friends are Eros, the Demi-Goddess of Sex; Desi, the Demon of Desire; and Sybil, the Demon of Greed. Together they make a sort of Spawn and the City quad, each of them exhibiting the classic Miranda, Samantha, Charlotte, and Carrie traits that a SATC audience member will most certainly recognize.

It’s definitely not a deep book by any stretch of the imagination, and the plot is perhaps spread a little too thin since it’s part of a trilogy (I myself probably won’t make it through all three). Nonetheless, it is a fun, quick read. Something I really enjoyed was Harper’s attention to the fashion detail both at Lily’s job and in her own clothing; the author has some experience with these pieces having been in the fashion industry herself, and it showed. I’m not sure that these details would appeal to a broad audience, but I appreciated them.

For many years, my favorite books were those you could find on the shelves of a grocery store checkout stand—the paperback bestsellers that boasted suspenseful, smutty plots filled with sex, crime, and some sort of female protagonist who usually fell in love with the wrong man. (Erica Spindler, by the way, is one of my favorite authors in this style.) Though Succubus in the City lacked the crime and thriller elements I favor, it did have that silly, over-the-top raunch drama that I can appreciate in my reading.

I’ll give it three stars. I like a little fluff sometimes, so this one did the trick.

🙂


Review of THE HUNGER GAMES, by Suzanne Collins

First take: WOW.

Second take: Thank god I borrowed the next book from my friend so I can start it tonight!

I read about The Hunger Games in Entertainment Weekly about nine months ago and found the concept incredibly intriguing. Kids fighting to the death on demand of a Capitol entity, as a punishment for the people’s rebellion? What an insanely unique idea for a novel!

Over the summer I vacationed to Aruba; on the plane, a young man of about twenty sat beside me reading the third book in the series, Mockingjay. He barely acknowledged his soda and peanuts as he pored over the book, eventually lowering it to his tray table with a big sigh.

“What did you think?” his girlfriend asked.

“It was incredible,” he breathed.

He then proceeded to go on and on about the book to the point where I finally said, “Um, hey, some of us still haven’t read it. Can you maybe not give away the whole story just yet?” We had a good laugh, and he informed me that he’d been reading the series nonstop over the last few days and simply couldn’t put it down. 

I proudly purchased my copy just after I returned home. Sadly, I got distracted working on Kyresa (okay, that’s not such a sad thing), the school year started, and various other bouts of drama abounded—but I swore I would read that darn book before the movie came out if it killed me. Well, I finished it, and you know what? The kid was right.

From the first page, I refused to put this book down. Narrated by sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, a girl in the poorest District who volunteers in place of her twelve-year-old sister, Hunger Games contains a carefully blended scene of both science fiction and fantasy. Gone is the world we know, replaced instead by a cruel Capitol bent on punishing the people for their past defiance. Katniss is a skilled huntress who has spent her life unintentionally preparing for the Games, by providing for her family since her father’s death. Headstrong, clever, and hosting a keen understanding of the natural world around her, Katniss is a phenomenal teenage heroine. She bravely enters the Gamemakers’ world, hoping to survive the brutality that has reminded the world of their place under the Capitol in a manner vaguely reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984. Once in the arena, Katniss fights against a collection of terrifying opponents, both human forces and natural elements alike. Meanwhile, she also struggles against an acquaintance from home, the questionable Peeta, with whom she learns a bit about herself as well as her transforming emotions throughout the course of the Games.

Though the book is geared toward a younger audience, any adult can enjoy this book (I personally know of four who can’t stop raving about it). The reading is smooth and intriguing, with rich and engaging characters whose complicated flaws and endearing traits wrap you up in concern as you follow their journey. Even the dangerous, bully teens who seek to snuff the lives of those around them are characters you can’t help but feel sorrow for, as their morals are caught in the Capitol’s inhumane rules and expectations. I had a few flashes back to Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” as well as Golding’s Lord of the Flies as I read, though, I have to admit, I took far more pleasure in this read—and I’m a pretty big fan of the aforementioned pieces.

At the gym today, a gentleman asked me how I could move so fast on the elliptical machine while still reading [and clutching] a book. My response?

“Because this book is amazing! You should read it too!”

I’m so excited to read the next book of the series that I’m afraid it’s now time to sign off and read!

(Be sure to check out Suzanne Collins’s website: http://www.suzannecollinsbooks.com/index.htm for more information on the trilogy.)


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