Plotting: Part Two - Theme, Climax, Denouement
The theme of a story is the impression which the author wishes to leave with his reader at the end of the book. The writer should determine the theme of the story early on in the writing. Effectively, it should be decided whether there will be a happy, sad or mixed message given, and what the message will be. By the time the reader has been told what the conflicts are, he should have a pretty good idea what sort of outcome to expect. And, unless you have an extremely well-crafted surprise ending, the reader is going to feel cheated if you don't deliver the expected outcome. If the reader feels cheated, he is not going to read your next story. Theme is the fulfillment of the expectations the author has raised in the reader.
In "The Pirates of the Caribbean", we know, by the time the conflicts have been exposed, that we should expect a happy ending. We've seen humorous scenes and a budding romance, clear signs of an upbeat ending. We know who the good guys are, why they are good, who the bad guys are and that they will be punished. Most fiction is so-called "feel good" fiction because it has a wide range of appeal. Readers like to feel happy when they finish a story. If you're undecided about your theme, then writing a happy ending is a safe and easy choice.
Once the theme of the story is firmly established and the conflicts exposed, the action should move firmly and decisively toward the high point of the story, the climax. To paraphrase the renowned fiction-writing coach Lawrence Block, you need to run your hero up a tree, then throw rocks at him. In other words, once you think you've put your character into an impossible situation, it's your job to make it even more impossible. The move toward the climax is the most crucial point in capturing your reader's attention. He has to wonder how on earth you are going to get your hero out of the tree.
In "The Pirates of the Caribbean", the heroes are battling against seemingly impossible odds. Their antagonists are devious, blood-thirsty, and immortal. They've cut the heroes off at every turn. No matter what they try, it seems that they cannot outwit their foes and are bound for certain death. But, being heroes, they forge ahead bravely, hoping against hope that goodness will prevail.
The climax is the turning point of the story, what I call the 'aha' moment. This is the point where the author reveals how he is going to get his hero out of the tree. All of the threads of the story should converge at this point to form an explanation for the reader. And, be mindful, the explanation should make sense based on the foreshadowing (hinting) that went on before. The climax is not the time to introduce new elements to the story or fabricate miracles.
The climax should also begin to answer the questions that the writer posed when writing the exposition and exposing the conflicts. In the case of "The Pirates of the Caribbean", the heroine exposes her terrible secret, we rather suspect that the antihero is really a good guy, that the bad guys are going to be punished, and what the heroes intend to do to finally go about effecting the change.
Once the writer has begun to clue in the reader, the reader should realize that the end of the story is near. If you've done your job properly, the reader should start to feel sorry that the end is coming, but also curious about how the writer is going to tie up the loose ends satisfactorily. This brings us to the final point of plotting a story, denouement, or, the conclusion.
When writing the denouement, it is the author's job to thoroughly review the story that has already been written and to make certain that all the plot elements which were presented to the reader earlier on have been addressed. The only case in which a lingering question should remain unanswered in a story is when the author intends to write a sequel. And, in the case of a sequel, it should be clear that the writer is withholding the information for a future date.
In some cases, the denouement quietly unravels the mystery for the reader, and in other cases, more action is required to answer the remaining questions. In our example story, the latter is the case. The hero has to resolve inner conflicts, rescue the antihero, who has again gotten himself into hot water, and secure the heart of his fair maiden. The heroine must make a decision regarding love and make her intentions clear. The lesser characters must also resolve their own conflicts, and the antihero's story must be drawn to a conclusion.
While writing the denouement may not be quite as fun as creating the climax, it is the writer's last chance to satisfy the reader. By writing a thorough and detailed conclusion, the author gives the reader his payoff, the answers he has been set up to crave. The conclusion should leave the reader sorry to turn that last page and say good-bye to the characters and story that was created. How you go about it is a function of how well you achieved the other plot points leading up to the end.
The second element necessary in writing the perfect story is no less important that that of plot, characterization. The secret to creating a plot which will keep the reader glued to the page is the creation of believable, sympathetic, and fully-drawn characters. No matter how well-crafted a plot may be, without good characters, the reader is simply not going to care what happens next in the story. And that is the subject of part three in this series.
The Piker Press moderates all comments.
Click here for the commenting policy.