Monday, January 5, 2009


denouement--the stage in a story directly before the resolution begins; moments in a story when the protagonist appears to be overwhelmed by conditions and forces contrary to the main goal and relevant interests; the equivalent point in a prose narrative of the end of act two in the three-act play format.

The denouement is the critical zenith in a story where the outcome is uncertain, although the clues and prompts leading to its resolution have been set into the narrative. Taking the Latin and French origins of the word into consideration, denouement is literally the unknotting of complications and obstacles. Now removed or ameliorated to sufficient degree, the ending can be set in place. The next questions become, will the resolution please the characters and if so, how do they show it?

Denouement in novels is more detailed than the resolution of a short story; there is more at stake in a novel and some change in attitude, fortune, and world view are often considered necessities by readers. For better or worse, Charles Dickens felt the need to return to his memorable novel, Great Expectations, changing the attitudes and worldviews of two of the major characters.

edge--a feeling of resentment, impatience, or frustration resident within a character, causing that individual to respond accordingly and in unconventional ways; a resident nature inherent in a character that seems to nudge or shove that character into action; a notable impatience with the status quo. Edgy characters are not necessarily negative, merely wanting to do something about a circumstance, condition, or situation. The presence of edge in a character is an implicit promise of heightened responses and activity to the reader and to other characters.

Wizard of Oz, The--an ideal narrative to examine for its thoughtful inclusion of basic elements supportive of story integrity. There is never any doubt of the answer to the question, Whose story is it? (Dorothy Gale) There is no doubt about the goal or prize of the story. (For Dorothy to return home.) The obstacles are laid out carefully before Dorothy, and the discovery she makes (the Wizard is a good-natured humbug) is a learning experience, as is the awareness, There's no place like home.

characters--the individuals in dramatic narratives about whom the story revolves; persons who by their actions and responses to events drive the story beyond its point of engagement, toward a resolution.

Front-rank characters are protagonists, those who cause things to happen; and antagonists, those whose agendas collide with and oppose the protagonists. Messenger characters are those who bring information on stage, anything from "The red coats are coming," to a "Guess who the high school hunk has a crush on." Pivotal characters are present as backup and support for the protagonists and antagonists, possibly switching sides during the course of the story. Exemplary characters appear to have things happen to them that serve as warnings or examples to the protagonists and antagonists. In a teen-aged romance, an exemplary character becomes pregnant and serves as a warning to the protagonist. In a mystery novel, an individual from the same organization as a front-rank character is found murdered, making the front-rant character fear now for his life.

Characters at all levels come on stage with some degree of expectation, which will effect the agenda and vocabulary the writer uses in dealing with the character, the way the character speaks and behaves. Even the lowest-level walk on has some agenda, even if it is just to get home. All characters come on stage having just been where they were previously, imparting a history of behavior and, thus, a greater reality to the reader and to the other characters. Accordingly, shadow characters are those whom the writer needs merely to open a door, clean a room, deliver a pizza, or get a signature for a package. The shadow character may be on stage for a matter of seconds, but may come to visible life with the difference in a verb.

All characters have some features, the front-rank characters having the biggest tool kit. Important hint: giving any character too many details, whether descriptive or motivational, signals the reader to expect a greater role from that character. Thus the details for each character should be thought out during revision, then managed carefully.

1 comment:

Querulous Squirrel said...

This comments relates more to the process of your blogging. I don't know any other blog that delivers so much writing information in a way that itself demonstrates writing at its most creative. Your posts are long and packed with information and, this is what gets me, you will keep trucking along even if a series of posts got zero comments. I think sometimes people are just too astonished at your knowledge to say anything, but I also know that I am very psychologically dependent on comments, even one per post, and if I don't get one, I assume it was awful. Which is odd, because when you are sitting at your desk writing, there are no comments until you hand the whole thing over to someone. There's no one looking over your shoulder like here. Which is to say, I want to be more like you. I want to keep posting my stories every day even if no one looks at them because I don't have the heart to trawl the blogworld hawking my wares to readers. It only takes a couple of good readers, knowing they are hovering around somewhere...