I’ve been thinking about endings a lot lately. About twists, and how to end a story in a way that satisfies me, and satisfies my readers. I’ve been reworking and rewriting the ending of Salvaged, and I really wanted to get it right – not just in terms of the story, but in terms of the story’s structure. I was not convinced – until much deliberation was undergone – that I absolutely positively HAD to end the book with a big fight scene. I held this internal argument that much of the character’s arc is internal, and her “long dark night of the soul” was perhaps enough. It wasn’t. I wrote the fight scene. But not until after I did a lot of research on the subject.
East v West Story structures
What I found, when I started digging around for the structural bits about plot writing was that there are really only two major schools of thought about this. Most of the Western story-tellers will act as if the Western escalating-tension arc is the only way to write a story. I could go on a little feminist rant that ends with “down with the patriarchy!” but I think you get the idea.
There is more than one way to satisfy the needs of a moving forward plot and a twist at the end of a book.
Eastern “Haiku” Story structure
The technical term which I will not repeat is called Kishōtenketsu story structure. The linked post does a good job of explaining the structure in terms of plot, but honestly, it’s exactly the same thing I’d learned about how to structure haiku. Two related lines, one unrelated line that makes no sense, final line that resolves the conflict in understanding between two and makes the whole thing feel complete.
I really want to try to write a story in this form. It’s common among Anime and Manga, of course, but less common in works that originate in the US. I also think it’s more Yin, less confrontational, and possibly perplexing to an average reader. I desperately want to dig into this arc. I just need to find the right story for it.
Alas, Salvaged is not that story.
Western “Male-ejaculatory arc”
Let’s talk about the narrative arc that is more common (and often touted as the only way to move plot forward) the standard rising-conflict 3 or 5 act arc (this outstanding piece is full of swearing and brilliant). I felt like I learned more about this story structure from watching the film Gravity, than I have reading a thousand how-to articles. Of course, there are dozens of fantastic examples of this structure, because it’s the predominant form of storytelling.
It requires there to be conflict – like actual trouble and problems and bashing in of skulls. There has to be a “winner” and a “loser”. It is combative, war-like and sometimes violent. Contrast this with the Haiku version that creates tension in the reader’s mind by introducing a non-sequitor element.
Art mirrors life mirrors art.
Metaphors we live by
This reminds me of the book Metaphors We Live By and the fact that English words and metaphors for argument are equally warlike and combative. There are winners and losers of all spoken confrontations and debates in the ways that the English language wraps around the concept.
I really want to explore some stories where the nature of the thing is not war, but perplexity. That the resolution is not one of winning and losing but of understanding and clarity. I think it might be a lovely brainspace to explore….
- Outlining: The Secret to Story Structure? (writeofmind.wordpress.com)
- The one where I make myself crazy revising story structure (aletteratatime.wordpress.com)
- Blog: Why the traditional three-act story structure doesn’t work for games (gamasutra.com)