November 17, 2014
Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts
Mistake Number Eight: Impossible Resolutions
This is the eighth blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of all kinds of subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important common mistakes. Today we’ll look at “Impossible Resolutions.”
Too much description and narration
Switching viewpoints in the same scene
A negative tone throughout the story
Infallible or underdeveloped characters
Stilted or unnatural dialogue
No significant conflict
Weak transitions between paragraphs
Passive verbs instead of active verbs
Lack of sensory detail
Lack of emotion or action
H’m, impossible resolutions…. Maybe we need to define resolution before we go any farther. In my WORD dictionary in my computer, the word “resolution” has 13 different definitions, one which applies directly to writing. Definition number 11 states: “part of the narrative when the conflict is resolved.”
Now, I learned way back in third grade never to define a word with its own word. So let’s just say that our definition of “resolution,” for clarity’s sake, is coming to a satisfactory conclusion after the characters reach the climax of the story arc. But if the story has no satisfactory conclusion but rather has an impossible ending that frustrates the reader, we have a poorly written manuscript and a disappointed reader, who’ll never look up that author’s work again. And remember, a satisfactory conclusion doesn’t always mean a happy ending, but it has to fit with the story like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle.
So, what are the characteristics of an impossible resolution? Let’s discuss a few examples by first changing the endings of some classics or best-selling books (or movies) and analyzing how impossible these endings would have been:
LASSIE, COME HOME – what if Lassie never would have “come home?” What if he would have drowned?
GONE WITH THE WIND – what if Scarlet would have married Ashley?
THE WIZARD OF OZ – what if Dorothy would have stayed in Oz because she liked it better than “home?” She certainly loved her three comrades dearly.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL – what if Scrooge hadn’t reformed after the spirits visited him?
YOU’VE GOT MAIL – what if Joe Fox had decided not to pursue Kathleen Kelly because his father’s multiple marriages all ended in failure?
JURASSIC PARK – what if the main characters would have, somehow, killed the T-Rex, and the last scene would have the characters all standing around the dead T-Rex?
KING KONG (the original) – what if King Kong would have kidnapped the screaming babe one more time and would have tromped out of New York City, destroying everything in his path, and headed for the woods?
CAMELOT – what if Lance and Guenevere would have married each other, King Arthur would have forgiven them, and they all would have sat at a dinner table together in the last scene?
Well, you might say, all these books and movies could have ended as I’ve suggested. Not so. Not with the earlier parts of the script written the way they were. These endings would have been IMPOSSIBLE? But why?
Follow the beginning of the stories to the end as the conflict develops, as the tension increases in each, and as they reach the climax. The stories were written so you’d be rooting for a certain character to be successful (if a hero-type protagonist) or for a negative antagonist character to meet his/her just rewards at the end.
So why are we satisfied that King Kong met his death at the bottom of the Empire State Building but the T-rex in Jurassic Park wasn’t bumped off?
Although both are important primary characters, the sympathy in King Kong lies mostly with the screaming babe. Yes, King Kong does have his moments where the reader or viewer feels sorry for him but not so much that he could keep kidnapping the babe. It would have been too much for the reader/viewer to tolerate. It would have been an endless boring plot.
On the other hand, in Jurassic Park, the dinosaur is such a major player in the book and film, killing him off would have been very disappointing to the reader/viewer. And…another very important factor to consider is whether the book/movie has sequels. What would Jurassic Park’s sequels have been like without the gigantic T-rex that delights in eating people popping up every now and then?
Thus, to have these books/movies end as I’ve suggested, the entire manuscript would have to be rewritten with different tension, conflict, climax, and resolution. The primary characters in many cases would become secondary characters and vice versa.
Remember, everything that happens and everything the characters do in a story MUST work together like that gigantic jigsaw puzzle, all driving forward toward the climax and resolution, which must fit together perfectly on the last page. The story MUST center on the main characters, who either get their just reward or meet their doom at the end.
Next time, we’ll look at Mistake Number Nine: Redundancy.