Resolution vs...

So, let’s talk about writing resolutions.  And I'm not referring to the “I’m going to write 25k words per week” type of resolution, but rather, the "how to wrap up a story" type of resolution.

Ending vs. Resolution. One of the most important distinctions I’ve learned in my study of the writing arts is that resolutions and endings are different animals. Sure, by the time the reader gets to the end of a novel, the story should’ve undergone a resolution. But the resolution is more about what happens after the last page. The reader knows what happened within the bounds of the story, but do the characters live on in ‘Happily Ever After’?

Resolution vs. Resolved. (I believe it was) Bruce Coville at an SCBWI – LA conference keynote who talked about how a story doesn’t need to…in fact, it should not…tie up all the threads. That some of those loose threads should dangle for the reader’s mind to return to long after the book is closed. I feel that many books/movies/TV shows we see these days wrap everything up so nicely that we immediately forget about them. I think this might be true because they don’t have those “danglers” to tickle us for years to come.

Resolution vs. Cliffhanger. Now, leaving open threads doesn’t mean a book has to end in the middle of a scene. Cutting the reader off like that is a dirty trick and it may make them pick up the next book...or it may just piss them off enough to leave you entirely. The best books, even those in the middle of a series, are the ones that leave you with a sense that things have been resolved, yet aren’t wrapped up.

Resolution vs. Real Life. Ultimately, I think great resolutions work because that’s how real life works. Think about a book like going to college. We leave home, study, drink, repeat, and then graduate. And then we move to the next part of our lives. Life doesn’t end once we receive the degree…but the story of our college years does. Even if we look at our whole life as a story, after death, the world continues to turn.

Now, how do you write a killer resolution? Really, I think it just takes care of itself as you focus on the other important aspects of crafting a novel. What I mean is that if your characters and world are vivid enough, if your plot structure is solid, and if your themes are woven beautifully, then the resolution just appears.

And so I hope that even though this post is done, you might think about the content even after you move on to your next blog read. 


Great post! My favorite books (even in a series) are those that resolve things yet leave you thinking, wondering. It's always nice as a reader to make the story your own. And I love when I'm still thinking of the story long after I walk away because it left me wondering. But I hate stories (even in a series) that just end with nothing resolved. When that happens I tend not to go on to the next in the series. I'm usually done. Thanks for sharing this.

I'm glad you mentioned the no-cliffhangers rule. I have two story commandments that I've been trying to evangelize for the past six years: 1. Finish the story, and 2. Don't kill the dog.

That's a very helpful post, and one I'll have to cogitate on!

Beta readers often uncover promises I've made in the story without realizing it. The task then is to figure out how to fulfill those promises. Even a running gag in a story can build an expectation that at some point the gag needs to matter.

Allowing some unresolvedness at the end is an art for sure and requires some guts.

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