Saturday, March 13, 2010
The End. What? It's Not The End?
Gotta love Calvin and Hobbes. But this is not only funny! I have a point to make! I think. Maybe.
I was thinking this cartoon can serve as an apt description for certain stories I've read, and certain struggles I think a lot of us writers have during the drafting process. Conflict and tension... and resolution. It's nice to resolve things, to have that moment where the character overcomes the obstacle and succeeds. But sometimes success is dangerous. We resolve something... and the story stops. And then has to jerk forward into movement again.
It's like a car that always stalls. Vroom vroom vroom... phut. Chugga chugga vroom vroom vroom... phut. It's one of the challenges of writing, I think, particularly for a novel or a longer work. It's easy to fall into a periodic trap of conflict, resolution... conflict, resolution... conflict, resolution. It's easy to get caught up writing specific incidents rather than writing a specific story.
I have a feeling this is what creates the sense of anti-climactic moments in a novel. Yay! We conquered! Okay. Um, what now? Calvin and Hobbes have shot each other... and, well, the game's sort of over. But in a novel it's all about reaching the end. It's about the pull, how one element drags the reader to the next. It's not about incidents, but about their interconnectedness.
So how do you avoid making your story too episodic? Anyone have any tricks, techniques or philosophies?
Part of what made me think of this is a book I read recently, a novel by a Czech writer, Radka Denemarkova, called Money from Hitler. This was an intense novel, a novel that was, in many senses, quite brutal. Partly for the content, the events, but partly just for that unrelenting intensity, the fevered pitch of it. Have you ever heard that old writing maxim "You have to be cruel to your characters"? Denemarkova, I think, has truly mastered this idea. And part of it has to do with how she handles conflicts and resolutions. There are resolutions (of a small scale) throughout the story, but almost never without an equal or greater conflict overwhelming it. There's satisfaction, but satisfaction always within a greater tension. The pull of this novel, from scene to scene, is unrelenting.
I'm not sure every novel could bear quite this level of intensity, like a tuning fork that never stops humming. But there's something in that idea of settling resolutions within greater moments of tension.
The problem, funnily enough, is that sometimes the resolutions are too resolute, too satisfying, too finished. Have you ever read a book where you reached a satisfying resolution at the end of a chapter and snapped the book shut... only to leave it sitting on the table for a few days? I've done that. The resolution was fine, quite satisfying. Too satisfying. I was happy. Tension resolved, nothing left hanging... now why was it that I have to go back and keep reading, again?
Sometimes the real resolution has to be kept just around the corner, almost unattainable. Close, but just out of reach. Gotta keep them grasping, turning those pages...
So, what do you think? What creates that pull for you in books? What drags you on to the very end? How do you approach pacing and flow in your own stuff? Hooking the reader is great... reeling them in can be even harder.