Resolution for Writers?

resolution needed to endI don’t know if I’m a particularly picky reader, but I do like a novel to have some sort of resolution. It doesn’t have to be a traditional happy ending – though, as a writer, I always end up with my characters looking forward hopefully. But that’s my quirk.

I can take bereavement, despair or the end of the world in other people’s books. Even enjoy them in a Having a Good Cry sort of way.

What I can’t be doing with, is to turn the page and find that there’s no more book. And in the last few months I’ve found that happening more and more.

Is a Resolution purely a Matter of Taste?

Taste? Well, it may be. I recognise the lack of a resolution by the effect – often visceral – that it has on me.

Writer's Cat BeautifulMy disappointment had physical manifestations in several cases. I threw my Kindle out of bed once. I certainly thumped two physical books down with a loud harrumph.

(Companion cat has started to watch me warily when I start reading a book.)

The unresolved endings left me feeling restless, unsettled and bad tempered.

The books were from different genres (literary, mystery, romance, fantasy and “women’s fiction”) but all had been well-reviewed. One, I believe, was a prize-winner. Maybe other people felt that the stories were satisfactorily resolved? Or maybe resolution was less important to them.

What do I Mean by a Resolution?

romantic resolution

I think that I mean coming to a place of rest. It doesn’t have to be a marriage, though it often is. But whether it’s marriage or reconciling an old dispute, or surviving the death of a loved one, the resolution has to embrace change, and acknowledged change, at that.

The important questions that the novelist has raised about these characters must have been answered. The characters themselves must know, if not all the answers, at least enough to give them a good night’s sleep and fresh start on the morrow.

An example from my own genre, romance, is what a beloved editor used to call the But I Thought You Loved Carlotta Moment.

Story is about conflict. Romantic stories are often about the lovers’ individual internal conflict as much as their on-going social duel: sexual attraction versus the survival instinct; old loyalties versus new; pride versus prejudice.

resolution by letterTo resolve all of this the characters have to come to a point where they admit their own feelings to themselves and then – deep breath, big step – to each other.

It’s a long process. In Pride and Prejudice it only starts with Mr Darcy’s post proposal letter. By the end we have to feel that there are no crucial deal-breakers still extant.

And in Chapter 60 Lizzie grills Mr Darcy on the course of his feelings for her and we get the perfect resolution.

“You might have talked to me more when you came to dinner.”

“A man who had felt less, might.”

Let’s face it. ‘”Will you marry me?” “Yes” The End’ just doesn’t cut the mustard. Though it may well be more true to life, it just isn’t satisfying at the end of a novel. Well, to me.

Unresolved Story: the Curse of the Series?

Now three of the books that I have cast from me with curses were the middle volumes of a series. I have read many series from Stephanie Plum to Adam Dalgleish and it is perfectly possible to give one story a decent resolution with uncountable novels still to come.

Resolution failureIt is also possible to bugger up the resolution in a single book, possibly for devious literary reasons. Or maybe just because the author can’t bear to close the door or any of his inventions and resorts to a multiverse. (Can you hear my teeth gnashing?)

I make three possible endings in “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”, none of which takes Sarah OR Charles OR anybody else to a place of rest, whether hopeful or not.

The book has many qualities and I have re-read some favourites bits many times. But never, never, that footling cop-out Hamlet-hesitating end.

Concluding Resolution

As a writer, deep in a story and heading towards The End, it’s quite difficult to remember to shake out and tie up all the tangled threads you’ve started during the weaving. I struggle with it all the time.

But for all those readers out there, like me, who are just panting to trust that the protagonist is out of the maze of this story and can rest with a clear mind, it so worth it. Even if your protagonist has another 24 books to come.


17 thoughts on “Resolution for Writers?

  1. Sue McCormick

    There is nothing that needs to be added to your cry for a resolution. Every good story should have one — should give the reader the sense that the characters know where they are and know how to go on.

    My comment is more about the good reviews. It is my guess that those were the “Jack Horner” type reviewers we discussed earlier (I believe your term is Malvolio?). This type of reviewer would be showing their “superiority” by applauding what they see as being unsatisfactory to most of us.

    1. Sophie Post author

      You may be right, Sue.

      Though, of course, people do like different things and it wouldn’t be surprising if people praised (and hated) different aspects of the same book.

  2. Melinda Hammond

    Sophie, I do so agree with you on resolution and you have now explained to me why I found TFLW so unsatisfying. I thought it was because I wasn’t clever enough to understand it – it may still be that, of course, but I do like something that tells me it is the end of the story, if not the end of the characters’ lives. Sometimes even an HEA of a romance doesn’t work, if the reader cannot believe it will work out. Thank you for another interesting, thought-provoking post. Loving Liberta!!

    1. Sophie Post author

      That’s interesting. I didn’t see it but I heard other people muttering. It also took me a while to realise WHY I was coming out of these books in such a bad mood.

      Thank you for loving Libertà, Melinda. Very much appreciated.

  3. Jan Jones (@janjonesauthor)

    I agree entirely. I can think of books where I’ve reached the end with a profound sense of having been had. It makes me very cross that I’ve invested time and emotions in a story, only to be fobbed off either with a hasty ending or an expectation that you will read the next book in the series to see what happens. Stories need properly finished hems.

    1. Sophie Post author

      I so agree about being cross, Jan. I’m rather ashamed of it, but it’s instinctive, so I just stamp about a bit until I’ve got over it.

  4. Elizabeth Bailey

    Completely agree. Some sort of resolution is essential, otherwise why the heck did I read all the way through this effusion only to be deprived of a satisfactory solution. Yes, you can sneak in a cliff-hanger about the next book if it’s a series, but THIS story needs to conclude.
    I’m not a fan of books without some sort of HEA either. I loathe the French idea of romance which seems to include one or other of the central couple dying at the end. Russians do that too sometimes. Of course it can be necessary as in Anna Karenina and thus a resolution, but that Black and White (or whatever it’s called) and the one with the mistaken identity guy – both get hung in the end – I mean, for heaven’s sake! talk about leading your reader up the garden path!

    And yes, no resolution is just that. You’ve been had about sums it up.

    1. Sophie Post author

      You do make me laugh, Liz I know exactly what you mean. (Martin Guerre?) Made me hopping mad.

      Mind you, the same is true in reverse. I made myself sick reading Lorna Doone for the first time. I’d got to “My darling’s eyes dimmed as with death,” when my father made me put the light out. After sobbing myself to sleep and generally collapsing with woe, I finished the book the next day – and the blasted woman wasn’t dead at all. Grrr.

      1. Elizabeth Bailey

        Lol! How infuriating. Yes, Martin Guerre. And not black and white but The Scarlet and the Black – memory having just obliged at last.

  5. lesley2cats

    As usual, I agree entirely. And Jan is right- you’ve been had. In my genre it should be essential to have a resolution – the crime is solved, the perpetrator caught and brought to justice and All Is Explained. Occasionally that can be subverted, as in The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd, but sometimes, in the more modern novels that fall under the heading of crime, there is no resolution. I hate it – and I don’t read them, if I know that’s what happens, of course. in a mystery series it should be a given that each separate book has a resolution, even if it’s part of an over-arching plot line – the will they won’t they romance between detective and sidekick, for instance. As tp the rushed ending – oh, lord. I think I’ve just done one. Sigh.

    1. Sophie Post author

      I suspect that most endings speed up, Lesley. And a resolution isn’t just about the end for me. It just means that anything I’ve been made to care about is brought to rest, one way or another.

      If I don’t care, I suppose I don’t really notice. But if I do care, I want to KNOW! Maybe particularly in crime and mysteries.

  6. janegordoncumming

    As far as I’m concerned the whole point of a novel is to show characters in difficulties and how they get out of them against all the odds, inspiring the reader with the possibility of doing the same in their own lives. If they don’t get out of them, why bother? No one wants to read a book about other people being miserable; there’s enough of that in real life. (Yes, a lot of Great Literature has passed me by.) I’ve been reading Edith Wharton lately, and she shows characters in a situation which looks as if it can only end sadly, so you turn the pages see how they’re possibly going to resolve it, and it carries on getting worse and worse, and then the book stops. Well that’s not a story, it’s a long passage of description.

    1. Sophie Post author

      Jane, you’re a woman after my own heart. These days I only ever read Edith Wharton when I know I’ve got time to read another book to lift my energy afterwards. She leaves me melancholy and, sometimes, despairing.

      1. janegordoncumming

        Yes, I read ‘Portrait of a Lady’ recently as well. What a mistake! All that time and emotional energy invested and wasted. (I’m background reading for the biography of my American-raised-in-Europe grandmother. Anyone know any cheerful books set in that world?)

  7. April Munday

    I’m still seething over a book I read recently which is the first in a series. The author obviously thought everyone who read the first one would go on to the rest, where she would, presumably, resolve everything from the first book eventually. None of the numerous threads she started was resolved. Instead of thinking ‘I must read the next one to find out what happens’, I felt cheated and won’t read another book by that author.

    1. Sophie Post author

      That’s exactly what happened to me, April. I turned over the page and there was …. nothing. Very disconcerting.

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