Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"Closing the Door" - Ending a Book

More than writing a book, considering all the steps of the process, their idiosyncrasies and challenges, the hardest part of writing a novel, for me at least, is the ending. Establishing a beginning is easy, because in the beginning of things you are just throwing out ideas, and over time these ideas gestate into grand fantasies that will comprise the body of your book's text. Ending a book, however, is quickly problematic because now the arcs of the book must be considered. Characters must be reconciled, and kingdoms must be restored or overturned. Like all things writing, there is no proper, formulaic way to do this. What I have endeavored to do in this workshop is give a general outline of certain dynamics that must be drawn to a close at the end of a book. For the sake of simplicity I will offer three shades of my methods and I hope you find them helpful.

Resolution of Plot

This is obvious, but cannot be overstated. I think of all the dynamics this is the most challenging of the three dynamics I have to offer you today. When resolving a plot, what must be considered is that the Plot began with a conflict, and there must be conflict in order for the story to be a story. The conflict begins when the antagonist cases trouble for the protagonist, which subsequently forces out the protagonist into the open. By doing this the protagonist can begin to interact with foreign elements in the story that will bring him to Maturation, something that we will talk about in the next section. In the plot the protagonist must confront the initial conflict and use his talents that have been accrued over the journey to thwart the evil before him. For example, in Lord of the Rings, Aragorn the heir of the throne of Gondor begins as a ranger, defying his destiny. The establishment of the fellowship is the event that catalyzes his growth as a character, forcing him out into an environment where he must rely on the help of his fellowship companions. After the initial conflict is introduced, Aragorn will return in the later books to defeat the evil that has manifested in Middle Earth. If your plot is not resolved then the book will not work, or seem incomplete. This is not the same as a tragic ending, or simply seeing plot resolutions as something always ending in excess mirth. In Hamlet the plot is resolved through the final death of the antagonist King Claudius, therefore removing from the throne the unrighteous king. Though Hamlet dies, he dies fully realized as a character, complete from his development over the course of the play. Plots like these two books can be simple, where there is just a binary evil awaiting on the horizon. Likewise, books can be also full of intrigue and competing kingdoms, like Game of Thrones. However the book is meant to end the key is resolving the imbalance that is introduced at the beginning of the work. As long as this happens, the book's ending will make sense.

Matured Characters

Part of finishing a book also lies in the development of the characters that appear in the book. Generally a protagonist begins in a state of naivete, unschooled in the inter workings of the world. Like in a screwball comedy, the protagonist is comfortable, but living for the most part in a lie. Like in Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, Fat Charlie is set to be married and has a stable career, but the clockwork motion of his life is really crushing and unfulfilled. Over the course of the book, his wild living and the disruption brought on by Spider changes him, forcing himself to learn more about who he is and the nature of his family. Now this kind of maturation is to be expected. The trick is implementing it into the plot. The protagonist must be tied up intimately into the climax of the book, otherwise when the book completes the protagonist will be more of a tool than a person, and the ending will seem artificial. The way I did it in Spirit of Orn, my book, was that I took an event in the life of the protagonist and I spent the entire novel placing him in situations that evoked his failure to see the conflict come. Also the protagonist should leverage something that he did not possess before the incident occurred. In my case the main protagonist, Conn, leverages his intelligence, something that he lacked in before. If the character leverages a newly gained aspect that he did not possess at the moment of conflict in the beginning of the book, then it will show the reader that the character has come to a close. It will feel more real and finished.

Resolution of Setting

This is something people do not consider much so I think it would behoove a budding author to consider this aspect of resolution. In the heat of conflict, the setting where the book takes place can be put in jeopardy as well as characters. For instance, if a kingdom is involved then war is soon to follow. In the resolution of the plot where war is on the brink of threatening the kingdom, if the book ends but pays no mind to the defeat of the principal evil of the book that threatens the setting then the book will feel unfinished. It would be like watching Star Wars and seeing a planet ravaged and destroyed, and see the main characters dancing in the ruins. What happens to the planet? Will it descend into civil war due to the imbalance of stability? Will it be rebuilt by the heroic democratic order of planets? These are questions that must be asked when writing a book. The setting must be redeems for the sake of resolution. Even in Office Space, Initech is "resolved" in it's being burnt down, thus ending the stranglehold it had on the lives of the employees that worked there. Having this resolution is important because if the company didn't burn down, detectives would have been able to track down the payroll fraud perpetrated by Peter and his friends. Like I said, it's often forgotten about, but helps in resolving the main plot of the book.

As usual, I hope these tips were helpful to you in your writing. They are the basic parameters that need to be considered when writing a book that will help close down the plot successfully. Each of these categories are also the primary points of resolution in movies and plays as well, so they can be easily generalized to any medium of storytelling. Like always, if you have any questions feel free to contact me and I would be more than happy to clarify and counsel you in your writing.

Cheers!

SW


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