Thursday, June 14, 2012

Resolution of the Major Thread

 Last month on The Blood-Red Pencil, I talked about taking control of your work. Even when the characters are in your head, talking and telling you their story, you have to know where the story is heading so you don't write a hundred thousand words and realize there's no end in sight.

The same is true when you edit the book. You have to know the one major theme that drives the story in order to know what can be cut or used to move the story forward in order to tighten the story up.

Keep in mind, though, that most books have multiple threads. There may be one overall thread or storyline, but the protagonist is not following one straight line to get to the end. She or he has other things going on in their lives that affect how they move forward. But in the end, it has to come down to that main task or desire or action that is the center of the story.

The smaller threads of the book can be resolved as the book progresses. One or two may not ever reach absolute resolution, whether this is a solo book or one in a series. But the one big thread needs resolution. That's what the book's climax is for. It's that culmination, absolution, voila, the butler did it moment or chapter.
 In last month's post I gave you the teaser for my new book, Angel Sometimes:
Angel had a plan: Go home to Oklahoma and ask her mother why she loved her one day, then threw her out like garbage the next. Since her mother was never going to come looking for her, she'd go to her mother. She'd made it as far as Austin. Before finishing the trek home to confront her parents, she needed three things: a high school diploma, a car, and a gun. 
 That teaser tells you what the main thread is. There are other sub-threads going on that move the story, but that big main thread must be tied up. She must pack her G.E.D., put her gun in her purse and get in her car and go confront her parents.

Your readers won't like it if you've teased them the whole way and don't provide the pay-off.

 Have you ever read a book that didn't give resolution? Does your work in progress have one major thread that will have to be resolved?
 Helen Ginger is the author of Angel Sometimes, as well as 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series. You can find two of her short stories in the just released anthology, The Corner Café. Her free ezine, Doing It Write, now in its thirteenth year of publication, goes out to subscribers around the globe. You can follow Helen on her blog, Straight From Hel, on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. She is also Partner and Webmistress for Legends In Our Own Minds® and the Coordinator of Story Circle Network’s Editorial Services.
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  1. You are so right about the importance of tying up all the threads in the story. And the resolution of that main thread needs to be organic to the story and the character, not just something thrown in by the author because a resolution is needed. I have been disappointed in some books that have this great lead up to the climax, and then the climax in manipulated by the author.

  2. Ditto to Maryann's comment. This is a great post, Helen! You hit on the essence of theme, the point of the story. I call it the main story question, and everything has to lead into that, with that question answered in the end.

    Loved this! Thank You.

  3. Argh, the "I'm at my word limit and stuck for a conclusion, so throw in the fiery plane crash HERE" ending. Feh.

    Yes, a proper tying up of threads is vital, and I'm not just saying that because I'm a knitter. ;)

  4. Amen, Helen. One way I have avoided leaving the main thread untied or having to patch in an unsatisfying ending is to write backwards. In 3 out of 4 of my novels, I wrote the end first, then wove my way toward it. In the process, I learned enough about the story to require some rework and rewriting of the climax, but I started the journey with a clear understanding of the destination.

    Endings can also be a tough sell, and it may not be possible to satisfy all readers. One of my cinema-loving buddies at the university recently complained about a movie I had recommended because it ended too well. He thought the main character should have been killed off and the baby should have been found dead and...

    Feature films often have their endings rewritten after test audiences complain. I ended up completely reworking the last chapter and epilogue of The Rosen Singularity after my beta readers objected to the resolution. It's still the same story, but the wrap-up is now a better finish to the story.

  5. One thing that drives me nuts editing mysteries, is the dangling red herrings that are substantive enough to need a certain level of resolution, but don't. Even Agatha Christie didn't always get this right! The reader does care about these things.

  6. All good points, Helen and commenters alike. Readers buy books. Therefore, they need to nod approvingly at the end of the story and wait in eager anticipation for our next book to come out.

    Endings are as important as beginnings, and both are more difficult to write than the all that goes in between.

  7. You've got that right, Linda!

  8. It's a challenge to write a series. Each book needs to be complete in its own right, not be a spoiler and make readers want to read more.

    Morgan Mandel

  9. When I started Angel Sometimes, I knew what the ending would be, but that didn't mean I knew the ending. But the closer I got to wrapping it all up, I understood what had to happen.

    As I wrote it, it was like there was no other answer.

  10. As soon as I read those first two paragraphs, I grinned and thought, "Ah, you don't plan or outline your books before you write them, do you? You simply start with your initial idea and keep writing until you start hitting walls, because you have no idea where that sucker is going. Been there, done that.

    May I suggest you pick up Karen Wiesner's book "First Draft in 30 Days. Her tagline is "A novel writer's system for building a complete and cohesive manuscript."

    She takes you right through how to plan your plots and subplots, so that you're not simply writing in the dark. Tremendously helpful.

  11. I think a lot of writers confuse the denouement with this sense of addressing the main story question that you're talking about. In order to be a story, and not a question, authors must address the main question (will he live to get the girl?). Yet it's fine with me if the author leaves you with the sense that the character's life will continue on in a way to which your imagination can contribute. It's really easy to get heavy-handed with the denouement: "And then they bought a house in San Francisco, had 2 children, and went on to establish a homeless shelter." Sometimes it's just enough to believe they're going to be okay. In other words, you don't need to answer the main story question and seven others as well! ;)


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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