Eudora Welty said, “All my work grows out of the work itself. It seems to set its form from the idea, which is complete from the start, and a sense of the form is like a vase into which you pour something and fill it up.”
I believe this. Structure stems from the material and not the other way around. Which is what has had led to my frustration over the past weeks. I haven’t been able to make my character do what I felt she was going to when I stared the book, or to alter my structure to fit her needs. No matter how hard I tried. Something was missing and I hadn’t been able to figure it out.
Then came the Natasha Richardson accident. I started to write this post right after it happened. I didn’t particularly know
I felt cheated. There weren’t enough facts, and the facts we were told didn’t make sense. They didn’t add up. Armed with only them, there was no way I could come to an understanding of how her death could have happened. "Senseless accident" was too generic.
Bingo, I thought to myself. There’s no resolution in
Resolution is everything to a person like me. Even more so to a writer like me. I don’t have to like what happens in a book or in life, but I do need to understand why. Resolutions, like structure, need to come from the material, itself. They come before endings. They matter more. And if what you’re writing doesn’t matter, what’s the point?
The ending is where you tie up loose ends. The resolution is the moment when your main character realizes the circumstance she has created and accepts the consequences of her actions and acts accordingly. While the resolution of those things may not please her – or us - we at least grow as a result of having achieved some sort of understanding.
Resolution on the part of your plot/character = understanding in the minds of your readers.
I’m wracking my brain to try and think of a resolution in a book I’ve read that left me totally unsatisfied. How about this: a woman falls on the bottom of a beginner’s ski slope, gets up and walks away without apparently having hit her head on any hard object, and subsequently dies.
I would not buy that plot. But now, days later, the plot has been flushed out, and I have to buy it, as sad as it may be.
Real life can be so darned disappointing.
Isn’t that why we all write?
Not that I set out to write books with happy endings. I don’t. But I do believe in what Eudora Welty says about resolutions.
“I really do work for a resolution in a story. I don’t think we often see life resolving itself, not in any sort of perfect way, but I like the fiction writer’s feeling of being able to confront an experience and resolve it as art, however imperfectly and briefly – to give it a form and try to embody it – to hold it and express it in a story’s terms.”
Or, as Mary McCarthy put it: “Human life itself may be almost pure chaos, but the work of the artist – the only thing he’s good for – is to take these handfuls of confusion and disparate things, things that seem to be irreconcilable, and put them together in a frame to give them some kind of shape and meaning. Even if it’s only his view of a meaning. That’s what he’s for – to give his view of life.”
I have come to the conclusion that because I don’t really understand the resolution of my own manuscript yet, that means my story has no real meaning. It’s going to continue to resist any and all structure I might try to jam it into until I figure out what that meaning is.
At least, that’s one writer’s way of working. If this all seems garbled, I apologize. I'm still working this thing through. I mean, who's the boss here, right? Me or the story?