The Resolution

Today we are talking about conclusions. Otherwise known as the end of the book. No, not the climax, or the moment that the hero wins. The conclusion is also the called the resolution, the moment after the hero wins. When the journey is over, the task is completed, and everyone is either saved or dead.

The conclusion is what will stick with the reader long after the book has been placed back on the shelf. It is the last taste in the cake that is the novel. Mess it up, and readers will be left with a nasty taste in their mouths, and never want to pick up one of your books again.

Yes, I have written another blog post a while back on endings. (you can find it here) They are my favorite part about stories, so I ain’t apologizing.

So, how much resolution is too much? The tension is over, all the questions have been answered, there is nothing left to keep the story moving. Unless of course you wait to wrap up a side plot until after the climax, which I think is an excellent strategy, but I digress.

What you want to avoid is the after climax winning stretch. The battle has been won, love has conquered, and the story keeps going, and going, and going… Until the reader is bored to tears and skims the final few pages.

However, I have also read novels where the resolution was too short. The climax happened, the good guys smile at each other, and then ‘The End’. To be honest, this happens more often in movies than in books. I am starting to dislike the words at the end of a movie that fill in for a great resolution scene. I don’t want to read about him living happily ever after, I want to see it.

The first ending leaves the reader feeling bored, and that the story was much too long. The second ending leaves the reader feeling unsatisfied. We, as writers, don’t want either, obviously.

But it still leaves the question, how much is too much? How much is too little? I am a reader before I am a writer, and I will say that the best endings that I remember are ones that directly correlated to how long the story was.

No one, unless you are an illiterate heathen, complains about the Into the West resolution at the end of Lord of the Rings. It is technically a long resolution, but nobody cares. Because we have spent hours caring about and adventuring with those characters. We are deeply invested in them, so we want to know what happens to them.

I once read a series that had a really, really long resolution. There was a wedding, and a coronation. Chapters upon chapters of stuff happened after the climax. You might think that it would have been boring. It was not. I loved every minute because I had spent hours wishing these characters a happy ending, and now I finally got to see it.

Contrast that to a rom-com. Nothin’ much happens after that last kiss, or proposal. Maybe a quick voice over, maybe them turning around to smile at celebrating friends. Short is the rule. Why? Because we only spent ninety minutes caring about these characters. Not very long in the grand scheme of things. So in all honesty, most of the time our interest ends when the tension ends. After that we all move on with our lives.

If I wrote a short story, my resolution would be one, maybe two lines. If I wrote a novel, a few pages would suffice. As for an epic series, one chapter showing everyone’s future might be nice.

When writing your story, ask yourself this question. If you were reading this story for the first time, what would you most want to know about the characters after the battle ends? When you answer that question for yourself, write it out. The resolution exists because readers care about characters. Give your readers the satisfaction of knowing that everything was okay after that, and they will love you forever.

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: Souji

As a disclaimer, I did not finish this book. I got about halfway through and then had to stop. What I am going to be talking about is the quality of the story that I read and especially the writing style. If there is a great climax, then wonderful! Also, if you like this story, more power to you. Personally, I did not find the story to be engaging or well written. But if you liked it, feel free to just skip this post.

Souji, by Moriah Jane.

The age of samurai is coming to a close.

As the emperor claims his new capital in Edo and brings his imperialists with him, the terminally ill Okita Souji must flee his home to seek solace from his elder sister, Kin. But as his health continues to decline and the reality that his way of life, the way of the samurai, has been lost forever settles in, Souji struggles to grasp meaning and purpose for the remainder of his frail existence.

Is there a life beyond the sword for Souji and if there is, can he lay down his katana forever?

First off, may I applaud this author on such a great, great back cover blurb. I mean wow. It sounds so interesting! I actually bought this book just because of the blurb. Souji sounded exactly like my cup of tea. This, right here, is a perfect example of good marketing.

A friend of mine posted the cover reveal, I read the blurb and thought it interesting, so I wasted no time in buying the book. I even skipped my usual read a review and the ‘Look Inside’ bit on Amazon. Marketing people, it pays off.

This book had so much potential, and it fell so, so flat.

First off, the book is written in third person present tense. An unusual choice. I have nothing against it. It can be done, and done well, but you have to be a pretty good writer to pull it off.

Unfortunately, this author could not pull it off. Many times over I was startled by the tense and completely pulled out of the story because I was convinced that she had switched tenses on me. Which is worse than doing one tense badly. I am glad she didn’t switch tenses! The tense felt unnatural to the story. I am saying this as a reader who doesn’t like being pulled out a story, and as a writer. It felt like the wrong tense for the book, especially since quite a bit of it was so introspective. I think it would have worked better if the book had been in the more traditional third person past tense.

I do not want to be told what the character is feeling. Please, please do not tell me that he is confused, or mad, or happy. Phrases like ‘he felt confused’, make me wince. Show me a wrinkled brow, or a clenched cup; that speaks volumes beyond simple words. The author did stay away from telling when describing the setting, good for her, but didn’t either know or care about staying away from it when discussing a persons emotions.

On to the characters themselves. I was actually very excited for the character of Souji. I hoped that he would be a complicated character dealing with life changing things. And he was dying, not something you see in fiction every day! (at least, not something I see every day)

Once again, he has potential, but the actual character fell flat in my opinion. Souji rarely even thinks about the fact that he doesn’t have long to live. There is not much struggle in his soul about the fact that really, his side is losing the war. A few bits here and there about how sad he feels does not cut it. If a samurai is who he has always been, and always wanted to be, the struggle to accept what is going on would take up every fiber of his being.

The struggle would make for some great inner tension as he starts to get to know the villagers. In fact, what if the lie he has to tell makes him feel terrible, like he is betraying who he is? Instead, it felt like a convenient plot device to create extra tension.

Also, I really have no idea what he wants. What is Souji’s goals in life? I know, I know, everything has changed on him and maybe he doesn’t have goals right now. So what were his goals before he got sick? What did he want more than anything? I am half way through the book and I still don’t know what his motivations are. Perhaps it comes later, but I do think motivations are something you should be able to pick up on pretty early on. Motivations endear characters to us more than anything else does. It pays to have them show up in the first chapter.

The other characters aren’t much better. While I appreciated the fact that the doctor lady doesn’t hate samurai, less drama later, I did not appreciate how perfect she is. Being a chatter box does not count as a character flaw, especially since it just endears her to Souji even more. All people have flaws, therefore all characters should have flaws.

Souji’s sister and her husband also came across as flat to me, though his sister was a bit better out of the two. They were interesting, and I think they could have been much more interesting, but they did not live up to what could have been. Personally, I did not think having his brother in law dislike samurai make him any more interesting. It just made him seem cliche. When he came on the scene I was like, ‘big surprise, he dislikes Souji’. I also really dislike that side plot, so it may be a ‘me not you’ thing.

Last thing and then I will go. The world is unclear. I know Souji’s side was losing, but I still don’t know why. The book does not explain overly much (if at all) why people like the emperor over the shogun. And what was Souji’s role in the war? There is one flashback scene, and it doesn’t tell me much. I would have loved more explanation about what is going on, and less tiny details about him looking off in the sunset or rubbing a mint leaf. Being halfway through the book and your reader still being confused about important things is a bad sign.

Honestly, I think this little book could have been very interesting. There was so much potential for interest and complexity. However, the writing of the book did not live up to my expectations. The characters could have used more work, as well as the writing itself. There were a couple sweet scenes, like Souji playing hide and seek with the kids, but for the most part I was disappointed. Maybe someday I will finish the book, but I don’t know.

Shaina Merrick

The Rebellious Writer: Talk to People

In the vein of being a rebellious writer, I have another piece of non-advice (as in a piece of advice that I am stating but not shouting on the top of my lungs) for all writers out there.

Talk to people. Do not bring your notebook with you. Bring yourself, and only yourself.

A very classy thing many writers are doing, or saying that they are doing, is bringing a notebook everywhere with them. The store, the party, the library. Everywhere! Some people take them for stray ideas that come in the most irritating places. Some people are actually working on their stories. Though I will admit it is a great excuse to hide my face from socializing. And one has the rush of ‘getting things done’. Here we are, multi tasking even at a social event!

My dear writing friend. Please leave the writing notebook at home. The things you will miss will far outweigh the words you gain.

Here recently I had the immense privilege of listening in on a conversation about a way of life far outside my own. I know the things I learned about cash crops will make its way into a novel. It was too interesting not to! Though I could have been sitting there surreptitiously writing down what they were saying. I chose not to. For one, I had left my notebook in the car, and for two, I would have lost the flow of the conversation if I had.

There may be people out there who can somehow listen and write at the same time, I am not one of those people. I can either listen, or I can write. Never the twain shall meet. I would have lost so much of that conversation if I had written things down. Things like facial expressions, hand gestures, and tones of voice. So much of human conversation is through non verbal gestures, what would I have missed if I had missed those cues?

I know that as a writer, there are some things I will have to give up and just not worry about. But writing while someone is talking, especially while I am in the conversation, is considered rude in many circles. Just about as bad as scrolling through a phone. Either way, the person is not paying full attention to the conversation. It irritates me to know end when someone is not listening to my words, how do other people feel when I pull out my notebook?

About a week ago I had a conversation with an extremely interesting person. I listened rapt to all of his experiences in working and life. We talking about education, and finding a job, among other things. Hello story ideas. And I never would have learned any of that, if I had kept my head buried in my own world.

People are interesting. But you will never know why unless you talk to them. Or if you listen to them. In the first example I mentioned, I spent the whole conversation listening. And that was all. I do realize that there are people who find starting conversations scary. After all, I am one of them.

Consider this a challenge to truly pay attention wherever you are and whatever you are doing. It doesn’t matter whether you are speaking or listening. I think the notebook, and the flurry of writing notes, is a distraction to the conversation going on.

Leave the notebook at home. Listen and interact with real life people. You will have ideas. Listening to people is one of the best ways I have found to get inspiration. Soak those interesting people in. Pay attention and find out their why’s, their motivations. After all, as writers we are trying to create characters who resonate with others, not just a quirky character who only exists to be quirky.

Shaina Merrick

Hello World!

Well hey guys! Did you miss me? (for my sake just pretend you did) I didn’t mean to have such a long break. But I went to the virtual Realm Makers, directed Vacation Bible School, and moved. I am still recovering.

But I have my own house! With a gorgeous view of the mountains that already has my imagination stirring. There is nothing like eating dinner with a view of a mountain range to get your story whirring.

Speaking of. I have a New Story Idea. It be amazing. And it has things that are near and dear to my heart. For now, I will be referring to it as COD. For reasons that make me laugh, and unknown to you. For now anyway.

So what is the point of this post? I dunno. To say hello to all my blogging buddies? To tell you all I moved and somehow figured out electric bills and setting up wifi all by myself?

Oh yeah. Realm Makers was amazing! Even though it was virtual, I still felt connected to all my writing friends. The classes were spot on, and the best part is, I get to listen to all of them!! I have the classes for an entire year, so instead of agonizing over which ones to go to and which ones to skip, and I can watch them all!!! Yay!

And because of all I have learned during Realm Makers, there may or may not be changes on the horizon here. Or at the very least a better blogging schedule. (shame on my procrastinating self)

Anyway. I will get out of your hair now.

Shaina Merrick