"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Structuring Your Novel: the Resolution

Now that you've set up everybody's motivations and painted all your characters into corners, you have to figure a way for them to solve their problems.

In the beginning of your plot outline, you probably made promises for great things to come. The resolution, therefore, must be sufficient to the promise. The most important thing to remember to be successful in this area is not to make the solutions to your characters' problems too easy. You must make your characters work for solutions, even agonize over them.

In one of my older novels, Midnight Hearts, the hero falls in love with the granddaughter of a rich railroad baron who is the man who destroyed the hero's family. He also was indirectly responsible for the hero's father's death. To marry the granddaughter whom he has fallen in love with would mean to become part of the very dynasty that destroyed his family. A hard cookie to swallow.

It would be simple to kill the baron off or have him die of natural causes incident to age, but that would be too easy a solution for the hero, and the story would end in Chapter Five. No, the hero must agonize over what to do, and he can't simply get to the end of the book and say, "Okay, I forgive the railroad baron for what he did sixteen years ago, and I'm going to marry his granddaughter."

The story must show the growth and the change that the hero goes through; it must show events that would lead him to a different opinion of the man he has hated; and it must vividly portray his inner struggle that finally brings him to a resolution.

Theme, characterization, motivation, goals, what's at stake, conflicts, obstacles, lessons learned, and resolutions. These are the buildings blocks of your story, the ones the editors want to see in the outline. They're not interested in specific scenes, but rather in the overall story structure. They want to be sure all the pieces of your story fit together nicely so there won't be gaping holes in the finished product and things that are simply too implausible, or too contrived, to be acceptable.

COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL: From my 1992 RWR article: "The Outline: Your Blueprint for a Structurally Sound Plot."


B.J. Anderson said...

You should do a class on this! I would so pay you for it. :D

avril joy said...

I think this is really excellent advice - structure is such a difficult thing for the would-be novelist but also for people like myself - one novel published - but still so much to learn. Thank you. It helps to remember what's important and its good to share it. This is also what I am trying to do in my blog which I have just started.

Linda Sandifer said...

Avril, glad this was helpful, and good luck with your writing.