Three Tips for Generating a Satisfying Resolution
“The writer’s job is to get the main character up a tree, and then once they are up there, throw rocks at them.”
Now, I don’t consider myself a violent person. I’m not a mean girl. And I don’t think I have ever—even in childhood—maliciously thrown a rock at someone.
However, hand me a work-in-progress and my pen and I will hurl, fling, and chuck stones of every size and shape at my main character. After all, as Nabokov says in the quote above, it’s my “job” as a writer. The problem is…my characters might not be as understanding.
You see, I have no issue coming up with obstacles and tension. In fact—and don’t tell my characters this—but I actually love turning the screws in this way. I delight in keeping the reader wondering “how will they ever get out of this?” but sometimes I, myself, am left wondering the same.
My problem lies in getting the main character back down from the tree. I mean, who would come down when you have a crazed curly-haired maniac lobbing boulders at your head?
If left in my “not-so-capable” hands, Curious George would still be frantically flying over the city holding on to a bunch of balloons, Wilbur would be wrought with depression upon Charlotte’s death, and Katniss and Peeta would be left squaring off with the task of killing one another to end the Hunger Games. These are all excellent climaxes, yet not good endings. Something tells me that cliff hanger endings such as these should not occur in children’s literature. Can you imagine the therapy sessions spawned by such bedtime tales?
So, a “writer’s job” also includes getting the main character back down from the tree and into a satisfying ending. This is what I find to be the hardest part of plotting.
If you are a rock-chucker like me, here are my THREE tips to create a “climb down that tree, dear character” ending.
1. Get back to the basics. By basics, I mean your character and their traits. Remember this simple rule of good storytelling: everything your character needs to succeed should be revealed at the beginning. Succeeding = getting out of the tree. So what is it about your character and their desires/goals that can be twisted into a satisfying ending?
The love and bond that Harry Potter had with his mother, even though separated by death, saves him from demise at the hands of Voldemort at the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Katniss’s willingness to sacrifice herself for those she loves and her cunning ability to “pull one over” on the Capitol save the lives of both Katniss and Peeta in The Hunger Games.
And if Harold, of Purple Crayon fame, is creative enough to draw the very world he gets lost in, surely he can draw his way back to his own window using the moon he admired on the first page.
2. Make lemonade (or in this case, stone soup!) Your character may use the stones you threw at them to their advantage. It’s a kind of cause-and-effect.
The peddler in Caps For Sale tries to get the monkeys to give back his caps, but all they do is mimic him. Yet when he throws his own cap on the ground, the monkeys throw their caps onto the ground, too.
Each of Jonas’ revelations about his world provide the knowledge and strength needed to kidnap Gabriel and escape to Elsewhere in The Giver.
Think of each stone you have thrown as a tool that the character has gathered and then can use to defeat the conflict.
3. Brew up a storm. When all else fails, step away and just start a list of possibilities. A good creative brainstorm, whether alone or with others, can be exactly what you need. Close the computer and grab a pen and paper.
Sometimes I am just a little too close to a character and just like them, I feel hopeless after all of that rock chucking. The situation starts to look impossible to me, the writer, as well. In those cases, I like to call in reinforcements and let others take a more distanced look at the tree. I can’t tell you how many times I have had critique partners look at a story that abruptly ends at the climax and whine, “help me. I have no idea where to go from here!”
A quick note about brainstorming: Twyla Tharp, award-winning choreographer, often asks her students to generate a list of sixty possibilities to solve a problem and then chooses the sixty-first. As she says in The Creative Habit, “The closer they get to the sixtieth idea, the more imaginative they become—because they have been forced to stretch their thinking. It’s the same arc every time: the first third of the ideas are obvious; the second third are more interesting; the final third show flair, insight, curiosity, even complexity.” So, keep those ideas coming. Challenge yourself. Dig deep.
You know that icebreaker game called the Human Knot? Everyone stands in a clump and grabs two hands within the group. The goal is then to untangle the clump without losing hold of the two hands you grab. It’s a tough game, but it can be solved. Every time.
Think of your plot as this knot. It’s a knot that you created and therefore, you—along with your main character—have the tools and the creativity to solve the puzzle. The answer shouldn’t be obvious to the reader. And often, it won’t be obvious to you, the writer. But it can be solved. Every time.
Now let’s go chuck some rocks, shall we?
Marcie Colleen is a former classroom teacher turned picture book author. Her forthcoming picture books include The Adventure of the Penguinaut (Scholastic) and Love, Triangle (Balzer+Bray / HarperCollins). She is a frequent presenter at conferences for SCBWI, as well as a faculty member of Kidlit Writing School. Visit her on the web at www.thisismarciecolleen.com.
Marcie is giving away a picture book critique. If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win, please leave a comment on this post to be entered into the drawing. Good luck!
If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Marcie’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.